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Ochre Use in the Middle Stone Age at Sibudu, South Africa: Grinding, Rubbing, Scoring and Engraving

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image of Journal of African Archaeology

Many Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites have evidence of the regular collection and use of ochre. Sibudu (KwaZulu- Natal, South Africa) has a large MSA ochre assemblage of over 9000 pieces from layers dating between ~77 ka and ~38 ka. There are 682 pieces with signs of use. All usetraces were examined and activity categories were defined based on published ochre experiments. The most frequent markings on ochre pieces are grinding striations that are smoothed by subsequent rubbing. Grinding and rubbing also occur independently on many pieces. Scored pieces are rare, but are more common in the pre-Still Bay (~77 ka) industry than elsewhere in the sequence. Some scored pieces may represent deliberate engravings. Markings acquired during powder-production are most numerous in the assemblage. Powder was mostly produced from bright-red pieces, but scoring was mainly performed on brown-red pieces. Pieces with mica inclusions are not common, but were favoured for powder production. Ochre powder was used as an aggregate in hafting adhesives, but other possible applications are as paint or as a substance to aid hide tanning.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies, and the Institute for Human Evolution, University of the Witwatersrand


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