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Direct evidence for the use of ochre in the hafting technology of Middle Stone Age tools from Sibudu Cave


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Microscopy was performed on tools obtained from the Middle Stone Age deposits of Sibudu Cave because previous observations suggested that there might be a possible functional role for ochre at the site. Analyses of the distribution patterns of ochre residues conducted on post-Howiesons Poort points and Howiesons Poort segments from Sibudu Cave show that ochre was an integral part of the hafting technologies for the duration of these techno-complexes. Close associations between ochre and resin on these tools strengthen the hypothesis that ground ochre was probably mixed into the adhesives that were used to glue the tools to hafts. The evidence presented here expands our understanding of the versatility and value of pigmentatious material in prehistory; it is not intended to be an alternative or replacement hypothesis for its possible symbolic role.
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Southern African Humanities Vol. 18 (1) Pages 57–67 Pietermaritzburg November, 2006
Direct evidence for the use of ochre in the hafting technology of
Middle Stone Age tools from Sibudu Cave
Marlize Lombard
Natal Museum, P. Bag 9070, Pietermaritzburg, 3200 & University of
KwaZulu-Natal, P. Bag X01, Scottsville, 3209 South Africa;
Microscopy was performed on tools obtained from the Middle Stone Age deposits of Sibudu Cave because
previous observations suggested that there might be a possible functional role for ochre at the site. Analyses
of the distribution patterns of ochre residues conducted on post-Howiesons Poort points and Howiesons
Poort segments from Sibudu Cave show that ochre was an integral part of the hafting technologies for the
duration of these techno-complexes. Close associations between ochre and resin on these tools strengthen
the hypothesis that ground ochre was probably mixed into the adhesives that were used to glue the tools to
hafts. The evidence presented here expands our understanding of the versatility and value of pigmentatious
material in prehistory; it is not intended to be an alternative or replacement hypothesis for its possible
symbolic role.
KEY WORDS: Middle Stone Age, southern Africa, Sibudu Cave, hafting technology, ochre, resin
Ochre, in all its conditions, contexts and connotations, has become an intensely
discussed topic as part of the amplified quest for early evidence of modern human
behaviour (for example, Ambrose 1998; Barham 1998, 2002; Barton 2005; Conard
2005; d’Errico 2003; Hovers et al. 2003; Knight et al. 1995; Watts 1998, 2002;
Wreschner 1980, 1982). The large quantities of ochre retrieved from sites such as
Apollo 11, Boomplaas, Hollow Rock Shelter, Border Cave, Klasies River Cave 1,
Umhlatuzana, Rose Cottage Cave, Bushman Rock Shelter, Olieboomspoort (Watts
2002) and Blombos Cave (where engraved ochre fragments dated to 77 ka were
also found) ensured that the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of southern Africa became
a focal point in these discussions (Henshilwood et al. 2002). Subsequently,
meticulous excavations, analyses and replication projects, conducted to interpret
the archaeological records at sites with long MSA sequences—such as Sibudu Cave
and Rose Cottage Cave—have augmented our understanding of the applications
of pigmentatious materials such as iron hydroxides and iron oxides, casually referred
to as ochre (Gibson et al. 2004; Hodgskiss 2006; Lombard 2004, 2005; Wadley
2005a, b; Wadley, Williamson & Lombard 2004). In this contribution, I discuss
the evidence for the use of ochre as a component in the hafting technology of the
post-Howiesons Poort and the Howiesons Poort techno-complexes at Sibudu Cave.
Separate research will highlight broader applications of ochre, and its association
with mastic in the Later Stone Age (LSA) of South Africa (Lombard 2006). For
background on the excavations, stratigraphy and dating of Sibudu Cave, please
see Wadley & Jacobs (this volume).
Some years ago, it was observed that many stone tools from Rose Cottage Cave
had red ochre on them; either because they were deposited in ochre-stained soil, or
used to scrape or grind ochre. However, these possibilities could not explain the
observation that many tools had ochre on their bases or non-working edges and
surfaces (Wadley 2005a). Preliminary residue analyses of stone tools from the
cave revealed the presence of ochre on many tool types. A subsequent investigation
of the distribution of residues on backed tools from the Howiesons Poort techno-
complex of Rose Cottage Cave showed that ochre and plant material were often
concentrated on or near the backed edges (Tomlinson 2001; Williamson 1997).
This distribution suggested that ochre might be part of the hafting technology, but
the sample was small and not ideal for residue analysis because it was previously
handled and marked on the ventral sides of the tools (Gibson et al. 2004).
Approximately 400 tools from post-Howiesons Poort occupation layers at Sibudu
Cave, dated between 50 and 60 ka, were subjected to residue analyses, and the
same phenomenon was recorded on many of these tools (Wadley, Williamson &
Lombard 2004; Williamson 2004).
Subsequently, Wadley (2005a) conducted replication studies to test the working
hypothesis that many tools were hafted using an adhesive in which red ochre was
an ingredient. Her work confirmed some of the observations made by other
researchers, such as Allain and Rigaud (1986), that ochre is an excellent filler for
resins and resin and wax mixtures. Ochre-loaded adhesives prove far easier to
work with than sticky resins alone, and are more easily moulded to accommodate
tools and hafts. These adhesives also dry faster than unloaded resins. Importantly,
unloaded adhesives are hydroscopic, and thus become tacky under damp conditions.
Ochre-loaded adhesives are not hydroscopic after they have been properly dried.
Furthermore, the experiments showed that tools mounted with ochre-loaded resin
were more likely to complete tasks successfully than those without. Calculations
of ochre mass, based on this replication work, indicate that the hafting hypothesis
may also account for a large proportion of pigmentatious material from MSA
archaeological sites (Wadley 2005a). Subsequent hafting experiments conducted
by Hodgskiss (2006), using no loading agents or different loading agents in the
adhesives of 60 replicated stone tools, also indicated that ochre is a successful
loading agent or aggregate. Furthermore, it was shown that adding beeswax or
sand to the resin may produce resilient tools. These observations provide valuable
guidelines for future work aimed at unravelling Stone Age adhesive recipes.
In a further study by Wadley (2005b) the ochre nodules that were ground to use in the
replicated glues were analysed. They showed that when ochre is obtained from nodules
with a hard stone core, the powder is most efficiently extracted by rotating the nodules
on coarse stone. This rotation creates facets and some nodules develop a crayon-like
shape at the stage when they need to be discarded. Microscopic examination of these
discards reveals striations and polish identical to those on archaeological ochre ‘crayons’
recovered from the MSA layers at Sibudu Cave (Wadley 2005b). This background
provides the context for the meticulous documentation and plotting of ochre residues
on all the stone tools on which I conduct microscopy.
The samples used for this study comprise 24 post-Howiesons Poort points and 53
Howiesons Poort segments. Most of the tools were not touched, washed or marked
subsequent to excavation. Most of the post-Howiesons Poort points were removed during
excavation with plastic tweezers and sealed on-site in individual plastic bags (B.
Williamson pers. comm.). I excavated the Howiesons Poort tools and placed them in
airtight plastic bags immediately after removing them from the matrix. Soil samples
were collected from the excavated Howiesons Poort layers. Microscope slides were
prepared of each soil sample and these were photographed under the same magnifications
and lighting conditions as the residues on the tools. This procedure provides a record of
the microscopic morphology of the matrix from which the tools were excavated, and
allows comparison between sediments, the residues of associated tools and any matrix
adhering to the tools. The tool samples were microscopically examined at magnifications
ranging from 50x to 500x using an Olympus BX40 stereo binocular metallographic
microscope with analysing and polarising filters, and bright and dark field incident
light sources. A digital camera attachment was also used.
To establish whether there is a relationship between hafting and ochre on the tools, I
divide each of the tools into six portions. Each portion includes a dorsal and ventral
side. The post-Howiesons Poort points are placed with the dorsal sides facing upwards
and divided into right distal (portion 1), right medial (portion 2), right proximal
(portion 3), left proximal (portion 4), left medial (portion 5) and left distal portions
(portion 6). Portions 2, 3, 4 and 5 represent the areas where hafting traces can be expected
on the point sample. The segments are also placed with their dorsal sides facing upwards,
but because proximal and distal ends are often difficult or impossible to distinguish,
they are all placed with their backed edges to the left. Their portions are referred to as
upper blade (portion 1), medial blade (portion 2), lower blade (portion 3), lower back
(portion 4), medial back (portion 5) and upper back (portion 6). The backed portions 4,
5 and 6 are expected to show hafting traces on the segments. The expectations of where
hafting traces should occur were generated by previous use-trace analyses conducted
on tools of similar morphology, as well as experimental work in the case of
points (Gibson et al. 2004; Lombard 2004, 2005, Lombard et al. 2004; Williamson
A further test for the link between ochre and hafting is to establish whether the ochre
occurs in close association with a compelling hafting indicator such as resin. Although
resinous residues can also result from processing wet wood, their distribution patterns,
that is, where they occur on the tools, should indicate whether they accumulated from
working such material, or from a resin-based adhesive. Thus, for the purposes of this
study, all ochre and resin occurrences were recorded. They were plotted on line sketches
and counted in relation to the portions described above. This method highlights the
possible existence of distribution patterns and serves as a basis for further interpretation.
Although it cannot be considered an accurate quantification of the residues, it does
provide a realistic reflection of the actual distribution and concentrations of residues on
the tools.
As a further control measure, a series of blind tests are being conducted at intervals
to improve the interpretation of microscopic residues (Lombard & Wadley in press;
Wadley, Lombard & Williamson 2004). Some of the tools, prepared for the Wadley
Fig. 1. Different appearances of ochre residues deposited on replicated stone tools as a result of ochre-loaded
adhesives being used for hafting the tools to wooden hafts: (a) Ochre grains in clear resin, 500x;
(b) ochre resin and plant tissue, 100x; (c) ochre and plant fibre, 500x; (d) ochre and degrading
resin or plant tissue, 500x; (e) ochre and degrading resin or plant tissue, 100x; (f) ochre (left) with
resinous bark cells (right), 200x; (g) powdery ochre deposit, 100x; (h) ochre distribution on the
proximal edge of a tool 50x.
Fig. 2. Documentation of ochre occurrences on archaeological stone tools: (a–b) occurrences on post-
Howiesons Poort points from Sibudu Cave; (c–h) occurrences on Howiesons Poort segments
from Sibudu Cave. (a) ochre and resin mix on the proximal edge of a point, with bright polish
caused by friction with a wooden haft, 50x; (b) ochre, resin and degraded plant material, with
bright polish caused by friction with a wooden haft, 100x; (c) ochre grains in clear resin, 200x; (d)
ochre and resin mix, 500x; (e) ochre and degraded resin and plant tissue, 200x; (f) ochre resin and
plant fibre, 100x; (g) powdery ochre deposit, 200x; (h) ochre and resin with degrading wood
fibres, 200x.
(2005a) replication project, were used in such a blind test. Additional tools that were
included in the test were not hafted. Some were rubbed with ochre, or handled with
ochre-stained hands (Lombard & Wadley in press). A micrographic record of the residues
on these objects serves as modern reference to aid in the recognition of ochre accumulated
as a result of various applications on stone tools (Fig. 1). This source of reference,
together with other replicated tools, also applies to resin and other residue types.
Soil samples
Soil samples for the post-Howiesons Poort layers were not available for analysis, but
samples are being collected from the same layers in adjacent squares during the current
excavation seasons for future analysis. The stringent testing of the data derived from
the residue analysis conducted on the tools from these post-Howiesons Poort layers
significantly reduces the possibility of coincidental distribution of ochre and resinous
residues (Lombard 2004, 2005). Soil samples from the Howiesons Poort layers, from
which the tools for this study were excavated, show remarkably little ochre in the soil.
Microscopic ochre granules are very small in comparison with the residues found on
the tools, and are usually isolated single grains. It can therefore be expected that small,
isolated ochre deposits on some tools may have accumulated accidentally. However,
should clear distribution patterns emerge over a representative sample of a tool type, it
is possible to identify such accidental occurrences. Large concentrations of ochre may
conceivably accumulate on a tool that has been deposited close to an ochre nodule,
‘crayon’ or grinding stone in the soil. It is unlikely that this will happen coincidentally
on identical portions of numerous tools in a sample, though, and it is therefore essential
that wide-ranging or assemblage-level interpretations for the function or hafting
technology of a tool type are not attempted based on the residue distributions on a
single tool. Where at all possible, the dispersal of ochre residues (or any other residues)
on a sample of at least 20 or more tools of a single type should be compared to establish
the possible existence of general distribution patterns or accidental residues as a result
of coincidental contact.
The post-Howiesons Poort
Analysis of the post-Howiesons Poort sample of 24 whole points shows that 80.5 %
of all the ochre occurrences (n = 164) are located on the proximal and medial portions
(Fig. 2). The same portions contain 87 % of all the resin occurrences (n = 146)
(Table 1). The line graph (Fig. 3) shows how little the distribution patterns of the two
residues differ over the six portions used for this analysis, indicating a clear association
between the two residue types. Detailed analysis and chi-square statistical tests of the
distribution patterns of 807 residue occurrences on these points showed that the
distribution of residue types, including ochre and resin, cannot be considered coincidental
(Lombard 2004, 2005). Other use traces such as microwear and macro-fractures
contributed to the interpretation that these tools were hafted to wooden shafts and used
as hunting tools. Of all the points with ochre concentrated on their proximal and medial
sections, 68 % exhibit compelling physical evidence for hafting in the form of macro-
fractures and microwear (Lombard 2004, 2005; Wadley, Williamson & Lombard 2004).
Thus, for the post-Howiesons Poort points from Sibudu Cave, I propose that an adhesive
of ochre-loaded resin was used to hold the stone points in place. Additionally, there is
evidence that they were bound with plant twine to the shafts, probably in order to
withstand impact use, for which there exists generous evidence (Lombard 2005).
The Howiesons Poort
The analysis of the Howiesons Poort segments shows a clear concentration of ochre
and resin residues on the backed portions (Table 2). On the 53 tools, 502 ochre
occurrences and 585 resin occurrences were documented. A total of 80 % of the ochre
occurrences and 87 % of the resin occurrences are located on the backed portions that
are usually associated with hafting (these percentages are almost identical to those
associated with hafting traces on the post-Howiesons Poort points). In some instances
the distribution of ochre could even be observed with the naked eye along the backed
portions of the segments (Fig. 4). The line graph (Fig. 5) illustrates a clear association
Portion n of portions Ochre occurrences Resin occurrences
124114 119.5 110 117.5
224127 115.5 119 113.5
324135 123.5 142 128.5
424140 124.5 139 126.5
524130 118.5 128 119.5
624117 110.5 118116.5
Totals 164 100.5 146 100.5
Ochre and resin frequencies and percentages on the various portions of post-Howiesons Poort points
from Sibudu Cave. n = number; f = frequency.
Fig. 3. Line graph of ochre and resin distribution patterns on post-Howiesons Poort points from Sibudu
between the distribution of ochre and resin residues on the Howiesons Poort segments
(Fig. 2). These data are interpreted as compelling direct evidence for the use of ochre in
the adhesive recipe utilised for hafting Howiesons Poort segments at Sibudu Cave. The
processing of data generated during the full residue, usewear and macro-fracture analyses
on the same sample has not been completed and interpreted yet, but it is foreseen that it
may provide more detailed information on the hafting technology, haft materials and
function(s) of Howiesons Poort segments. Comparisons with the analyses of the post-
Portion n of portions Ochre occurrences Resin occurrences
148119 114.5 122 114.5
252140 118.5 130 115.5
348143 118.5 125 114.5
4 48 105 123.5 133 122.5
5 52 162 132.5 223 138.5
6 48 123 124.5 152 126.5
Totals 502 100.5 585 100.5
Ochre and resin frequencies and percentages on the various portions of Howiesons Poort Segments from
Sibudu Cave. n = number; f = frequency.
Fig. 4. Howiesons Poort segments from Sibudu Cave with ochre along their backed portions. (a) The dorsal
and ventral sides of the same tool (b & c). Ventral sides of two individual tools.
Howiesons Poort points have the potential to highlight subtle differences in the hafting
technologies of the two techno-complexes. Differences may include variations in
adhesive recipes, methods of application and materials used for binding, hafting
materials, and tool functions.
These results convincingly substantiate the hypothesis that ground ochre was used as
a component of adhesives in the hafting technologies of post-Howiesons Poort points
and Howiesons Poort segments at Sibudu Cave. The direct evidence provided here for
the functional application of pigmentatious materials during the MSA in southern Africa
expands our understanding of its versatility and value in prehistory. The evidence is not
interpreted as an alternative explanation for the possible symbolic role of ochre. Past
human material culture contains many examples of objects or features that possessed
layered purposes ranging from utilitarian to symbolic (for example, Deacon 1992;
Lombard 2002, 2003; Lombard & Parsons 2003; Ouzman 1997; Tilley 1999; Wadley
1987; Whelan 2003; Wonderley 2005). Thus, one hypothesis or interpretation can seldom
encompass all the meanings that an item, substance or feature represented for the diverse
societies who used it over time.
Developing various hypotheses, or using different methodologies to investigate the
roles of ochre found in archaeological contexts, has the potential to contribute to a
more comprehensive understanding of past complexities in human behaviour—both
technological and symbolic. Each method or avenue of investigation leads to data or
insights that may underscore particular aspects rather than others. By downplaying,
Fig. 5. Line graph of ochre and resin distribution patterns on Howiesons Poort segments from Sibudu Cave.
disregarding or eliminating the possible functional value of a commonly preserved,
excavated and analysable material, such as ochre, we may impoverish the scope of our
knowledge of past human behaviour.
The series of studies conducted to understand the functional application of ochre as
part of MSA hafting technology, such as residue analyses, replication work and
experimentation, has increased our comprehension of the technological behaviour of
humans during this period in southern Africa. Results obtained from these projects
imply that the toolmakers had considerable technical skill and that they understood the
properties of the ingredients that are suitable for the manufacture of adhesives (Wadley
2005a). Furthermore, the research shows that these skills and insights were applied to
the production of a variety of composite tools over the span of at least two MSA techno-
complexes at Sibudu Cave.
Being part of the ‘colourful’ Sibudu Cave and ACACIA research teams is an
opportunity for which I thank Prof. Lyn Wadley. My appreciation goes to Isabelle Parsons
and Bronwen van Doornum who read early drafts, as well as Erella Hovers and Peter
Mitchell who refereed the paper. I also thank the Archaeology Department of the
University of the Witwatersrand for the use of their microscope and digital micrograph
equipment for the duration of this study. My research is funded by the Palaeontological
Scientific Trust and supported by the Natal Museum. Opinions expressed herein, and
possible oversights, are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Trust
or the Museum.
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... Middle Stone Age was a period of important innovations in human populations. Such innovations include heat-treatment of silcrete (Schmidt et al. 2020), and hafting adhesive (Lombard 2006(Lombard , 2007Wadley et al. 2009;Charrié-Duhaut et al. 2013). Collected since 500 ka, ochre uses developed during the MSA (Watts et al. 2016;Dapschauskas et al. 2022). ...
... Their symbolical use has long been debated (Dart 1975;McBrearty and Brooks 2000;Watts 2002Watts , 2009d'Errico 2003d'Errico , 2008Henshilwood and Marean 2003;Wadley 2005a, b;Soriano et al. 2009;Rifkin et al. 2015, Rifkin 2015Dapschauskas et al. 2022). It is nowadays established that such material could have been used for many other purposes than mere pigments or symbolical purposes such as adhesive charge (Wadley 2005b;Lombard 2006Lombard , 2007, abrasive agent (Audouin and Plisson 1982), mosquito repellent (Rifkin 2015), hide tanning agent (Rifkin 2011), sun protection agent Havenga et al. 2022), antibacterial agent (Havenga et al. 2022) and potentially as knapping hammers (Soriano et al. 2009). Here the term "ochre" is used in its archaeological sense, ochre sensu lato, as suggested by Popelka-Filcoff and Zipkin (2022). ...
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Unlabelled: Ochre has been found at many Middle Stone Age sites throughout southern Africa. Much work has been done to document these iron-rich raw materials, their modifications and their implications for past communities' behaviours, skills and cognition. However, until recently few works focused on the Middle Stone Age Waterberg ochre assemblages. The paper presents the ochre assemblage recovered at Red Balloon rock shelter, a new Middle Stone Age site on the Waterberg Plateau. The site preserves Middle Stone Age occupations dated around 95,000 years ago. Scanning electron microscopy observations, portable X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and infrared spectroscopy characterization document the presence of four ochre types. The MSA ochre assemblage recovered is mainly composed of specularite and specular hematite similar to the ones of Olieboomspoort and North Brabant. Microscopic observations and infrared analyses of soil sediment and of post-depositional deposits found on the ochre pieces show that this raw material specificity is of anthropic origin and not the result of post-depositional processes. Optical and digital observations of the archaeological assemblage and its comparison with a preliminary exploratory experimental one highlight the use of abrasion and bipolar percussion to process the ochre pieces at the site. The results point to the know-how and skills of the Middle Stone Age populations who inhabited the Waterberg region around 95,000 years ago. This raises the question of whether the specificities of the Waterberg ochre assemblages correspond to populations' adaptation to the local mountainous mineral resources and the existence of a regional ochre processing tradition. Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s12520-023-01778-5.
... Equipment caches such as Simon, Anzick, Drake, Richey-Roberts, Fenn, and Crook County contain projectile points and bifaces that are arguably too large to be used, are made of "exotic" materials that have been transported long distances, and the majority of these caches contain a substantial amount of red ochre, which is further argued to be ritualistic (Gillespie 2007). Red ochre is also thought to have been used as a hafting element (Lombard 2006). Even though the Anzick cache was discovered out of its original context, the contents frequently lend credence to the idea that it served a ritualistic function (Gillespie 2007). ...
... The red staining observed on two projectile points from F110 is minimal and has not been considered within this hypothesis as a ritual practice. Red staining on the haft of the two projectile points may instead indicate the use of red ochre as a hafting element (Lombard, 2006). The burning of the canid cranium in a different location and deposition beneath two manuports and a large cairn is also suggestive of ritual intent. ...
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Excavation of pit feature 110 (F110) at the Cooper’s Ferry site (10IH73) in central Idaho provides a unique snapshot of the domestic lifeways associated with the Western Stemmed Tradition (WST). Analysis was conducted of the F110 assemblage to better understand the function F110 served. The contents of F110 include Canis spp. remains, wolverine (Gulo gulo) remains, five WST projectile points, one biface fragment, debitage, and other fragmented faunal remains. Two charcoal samples were taken from F110 and returned ages of 11,352-11,264 cal BP and 11,278-11,223 cal BP. A comprehensive analysis of F110 and its contents further contributes to the body of knowledge surrounding the WST, the function F110 served at Cooper’s Ferry, and the domestic lifeways of the inhabitants of the Cooper’s Ferry site.
... In addition, a medical usage of ochre is reported in some ethnographic accounts (Velo, 1984), but this would be very difficult to verify archaeologically. Practical applications are mirrored in the archaeological record through evidence for the use of ochre powder in compound adhesives for hafting technology (Gibson et al., 2004;Lombard, 2006aLombard, , 2006bLombard, , 2007Wadley et al., 2004;Wojcieszak & Wadley, 2018) and ochre nodules used as soft knapping tools and abraders (Soriano et al., 2009). The presence of ochre, animal fat and muscle tissue on the edge of three scrapers from Sibudu (South Africa) could be the result of processing hides and/or coloring them (Wadley & Langejans, 2014). ...
... Direct archaeological evidence suggests that during the habitual phase some of the ochre was also used for functional purposes, for example, as an ingredient in compound adhesives (Gibson et al., 2004;Lombard, 2006aLombard, , b, 2007Lombard, , 2008Wadley et al., 2004), soft knapping tools and abrasion (Soriano et al., 2009), and possibly hide tanning (Wadley & Langejans, 2014). Yet it is unlikely that such functional uses of ochre are responsible for the main part of the archaeological record, especially considering that the aforementioned large assemblages of ochre exhibit deliberate color choice. ...
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Over the last two decades, red ochre has played a pivotal role in discussions about the cognitive and cultural evolution of early modern humans during the African Middle Stone Age. Given the importance of ochre for the scholarly debate about the emergence of ‘behavioral modernity’, the lack of long-term spatio-temporal analyses spanning large geographical areas represents a significant gap in knowledge. Here we take a continent-wide approach, rather than focusing on specific sites, regions or technocomplexes. We report the most comprehensive meta-analysis of ochre use to date, spanning Africa between 500 and 40 thousand years ago, to examine data from more than a hundred archaeological sites. Using methods based on time averaging, we identified three distinct phases of ochre use: the initial phase occurred from 500,000 to 330,000; the emergent phase from 330,000 to 160,000; and the habitual phase from 160,000 to 40,000 years ago. The number of sites with ochre increased with each subsequent phase. More importantly, the ratio of sites with ochre compared to those with only stone artifacts also followed this trend, indicating the increasing intensity of ochre use during the Middle Stone Age. While the geographical distribution expanded with time, the absolute number of ochre finds grew significantly as well, underlining the intensification of ochre use. We determine that ochre use established itself as a habitual cultural practice in southern, eastern and northern Africa starting about 160,000 years ago, when a third of archaeological sites contain ochre. We argue that this pattern is a likely material manifestation of intensifying ritual activity in early populations of Homo sapiens . Such ritual behavior may have facilitated the demographic expansion of early modern humans, first within and eventually beyond the African continent. We discuss the implications of our findings on two models of ritual evolution, the Female Cosmetic Coalitions Hypothesis and the Ecological Stress Hypothesis, as well as a model about the emergence of complex cultural capacities, the Eight-Grade Model for the Evolution and Expansion of Cultural Capacities .
... Small, backed pieces and their hafting traces have been interpreted as reflecting the origin of bow and arrow technology already at~60 ka (Lombard and Phillipson, 2010). MSA people produced compound adhesives, often featuring both ochre and plant material, for their use in composite implements and weapons (Lombard 2006;Wadley et al., 2009). Frequent import and use of nonlocal raw materials of high quality, and potentially other natural materials (Wilkins et al., 2021) is a phenomenon covering much of the Late Pleistocene (Will and Mackay, 2017), with distances up to >200 km for silcrete in Botswana (Nash et al., 2013(Nash et al., , 2016. ...
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The behavioral origins of Homo sapiens can be traced back to the first material culture produced by our species in Africa, the Middle Stone Age (MSA). Beyond this broad consensus, the origins, patterns, and causes of behavioral complexity in modern humans remain debated. Here, we consider whether recent findings continue to support popular scenarios of: (1) a modern human 'package,' (2) a gradual and 'pan-African' emergence of behavioral complexity, and (3) a direct connection to changes in the human brain. Our geographically structured review shows that decades of scientific research have continuously failed to find a discrete threshold for a complete 'modernity package' and that the concept is theoretically obsolete. Instead of a continent-wide, gradual accumulation of complex material culture, the record exhibits a predominantly asynchronous presence and duration of many innovations across different regions of Africa. The emerging pattern of behavioral complexity from the MSA conforms to an intricate mosaic characterized by spatially discrete, temporally variable, and historically contingent trajectories. This archaeological record bears no direct relation to a simplistic shift in the human brain but rather reflects similar cognitive capacities that are variably manifested. The interaction of multiple causal factors constitutes the most parsimonious explanation driving the variable expression of complex behaviors , with demographic processes such as population structure, size, and connectivity playing a key role. While much emphasis has been given to innovation and variability in the MSA record, long periods of stasis and a lack of cumulative developments argue further against a strictly gradualistic nature in the record. Instead, we are confronted with humanity's deep, variegated roots in Africa, and a dynamic metapopulation that took many millennia to reach the critical mass capable of producing the ratchet effect commonly used to define contemporary human culture. Finally, we note a weakening link between 'modern' human biology and behavior from around 300 ka ago.
... Su alcune armature sono stati identificati residui del collante utilizzato per l'immanicatura ( Fig. 4A). Nonostante solo analisi chimiche specifiche possano consentire di verificarne la natura, è possibile ipotizzare l'utilizzo di sostanze quali resina e bitume di origine vegetale che potevano essere mescolati con additivi di vario genere (ocra, frammenti ossei, grasso ecc.), come attestato in altri contesti paleolitici (Lombard 2006;Mazza et al. 2006;Burger et al. 2009;Wadley et al. 2009;Charrié-Duhaut et al. 2013) Gli strumenti dedicati alle attività domestiche venivano prodotti a partire da supporti di morfologie più variabili, sia prodotti derivanti dalle fasi di produzione, in particolare lamelle, sia sottoprodotti estratti durante le fasi di inizializzazione e gestione. Tra gli strumenti (Tab. ...
... Ochre (typically hematite) was used by hominins over the last 500,000 years (Watts et al. 2016). While it can have utilitarian uses such as a binding agent (Lombard 2006;Wojcieszak and Wadley 2018), the selection of the brightest red pieces suggests it was primarily used as pigment (Watts 2002;Hodgskiss 2012). Ethnographies demonstrate the widespread use of red ochre as a body paint in tropical climates (e.g., Hambly 1925; Duarte 2014; Rifkin 2015). ...
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This article offers some hypotheses to explain Later Stone Age lithic miniaturization: the systematic creation of small stone flakes on the finest-grained materials. Fundamentally, this phenomenon appears to represent the prioritization of stone tool sharpness over longevity, and a disposable mode of using stone tools. Ethnographic evidence from Australasia, the Andaman Islands, and Africa is used to suggest some specific functions for miniaturized lithics, as well as their relationship to other aspects of Later Stone Age material culture, including ochre crayons, shell beads, and notched bones. Miniaturized lithic functions are hypothesized to have a common basis in the cognitive capacity for abstraction: having ideas about ideas. The technological and social affordances of abstraction may have given later Homo sapiens significant adaptive advantages over other members of our genus.
... Su alcune armature sono stati identificati residui del collante utilizzato per l'immanicatura ( Fig. 4A). Nonostante solo analisi chimiche specifiche possano consentire di verificarne la natura, è possibile ipotizzare l'utilizzo di sostanze quali resina e bitume di origine vegetale che potevano essere mescolati con additivi di vario genere (ocra, frammenti ossei, grasso ecc.), come attestato in altri contesti paleolitici (Lombard 2006;Mazza et al. 2006;Burger et al. 2009;Wadley et al. 2009;Charrié-Duhaut et al. 2013) Gli strumenti dedicati alle attività domestiche venivano prodotti a partire da supporti di morfologie più variabili, sia prodotti derivanti dalle fasi di produzione, in particolare lamelle, sia sottoprodotti estratti durante le fasi di inizializzazione e gestione. Tra gli strumenti (Tab. ...
Questo volume offre un bilancio su settant’anni di ricerche sulla preistoria antica d’Italia, condotte da almeno quattro generazioni di docenti e ricercatori dell’Università di Ferrara, ora afferenti al Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici. Innumerevoli sono le testimonianze archeologiche, paleontologiche, geoarcheologiche e archeobiologiche, talora di carattere eccezionale, che contribuiscono a riscrivere la storia del primo popolamento della penisola italiana e delle successive fasi, identificando culture e condizioni ecologiche e toccando aspetti importanti, quali i reciproci rapporti del Neandertal e dei primi sapiens che raggiunsero l’Italia e l’abitarono nel corso dell’ultimo glaciale fino a rioccupare Alpi e Appennini nel postglaciale, quando gli ultimi cacciatori-raccoglitori scomparvero all’alba del Neolitico. Questo successo è stato conseguito grazie al continuo supporto dell’Ateneo ferrarese e delle istituzioni pubbliche ai progetti di ricerca e valorizzazione, operando in sinergia con musei e parchi archeologici e beneficiando dell’entusiastico coinvolgimento della comunità studentesca e dell’associazionismo locale nell’ottica, pluridecennale, dell’archeologia pubblica. I docenti e i ricercatori curatori di questo volume afferiscono alla Sezione di Scienze Preistoriche del Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici, dove coordinano e collaborano a progetti di ricerca sul Quaternario, il Paleolitico e il Mesolitico d’Italia, d’Europa e di altri continenti, curano la formazione accademica e post-accademica e propongono iniziative di Terza missione. L’approccio scientifico multidisciplinare li accomuna nell’intraprendere percorsi anche pluridecennali, mantenendo sempre l’attenzione verso l’innovazione metodologica.
... Still on the subject of hafting, we observed the presence of reddish residues on the small bases and truncations of three trapezes in layer 10, two trapezes without traces and one impacted trapeze with flat retouch. These mineral residues are distributed over the supposedly hafted part and could therefore illustrate the use of additives to the glue to improve adhesion and resistance properties (Allain & Rigaud, 1986;Gibson, Wadley, & Williamson, 2004;Lombard, 2006Lombard, , 2007Salomon, 2009;Wadley, 2005). Such ochre-coloured residues have also been identified at other Castelnovian sites, in particular at Mourre de Sève and Font-des-Pigeons Rockshelter in Southern France (De Stefanis, 2018) and at Gaban Rockshelter in northern Italy where the residues would, according to the author, come from the ochre-treated leather bindings used to fix the trapezes (Cristiani, Pedrotti, & Gialanella, 2009). ...
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The use of weapons, and therefore of arrowheads, contributed to structuring the technical, economic, social and cultural domains. In the technical sphere, emblematic projectile armatures are often considered to be loaded with cultural values and to embody the expression of human group identity. The study of their variability, in time and space, can shed light on mechanisms of mutation and innovation stemming from adaptative strategies and cultural choices. During the seventh and sixth millennia, the renewal of arrowheads corresponds to major changes in lithic equipment. Between the Late Mesolithic and the Early Neolithic, we observe a diversification of arrowhead shapes and the evolution of represented types. These observations enhance interpretative scenarios, especially questions concerning the transfer of know-how, techno-economic renewal and neolithisation. This article proposes to study these changes at the sequence of the Baume de Montclus site, a key site in Southern France. The selected sequence covers 1.5 millennia of occupation, roughly from 6500 to 5000 cal. BCE, with a corpus of geometric bitruncations of about 650 pieces. The combined study of microwear and technological and typological data leads to a comprehensive interpretation of manufacturing processes, hafting methods and function. These analyses provide valuable information on the diversity of arrowheads, the identification of specific technical traditions and the characterisation of techno-functional ruptures throughout this sequence. These results will subsequently be integrated into a wider, regional and extra-regional context, with a particular focus on the emergence of blade and trapeze complexes (BTC) and the neolithisation of the western Mediterranean basin.
Sibudu is a well-preserved Middle Stone Age archive in the interior of southern Africa. It has a well-dated lithic sequence comprising the pre-Still Bay (before c. 73 ka) to the final Middle Stone Age (c. 38 ka). Early sedge bedding is preserved at c. 77 ka and ground bone tools appear then, too, though they are most common in the Howiesons Poort at about 62 ka ago when the earliest known bone point that may be an arrowhead was found. Marine shell beads date to about ~72 ka. Environmental proxies demonstrate shifts from cool forests to warmer, more open savanna.
The discovery of the first species of African hominin, Australopithecus africanus, from Taung, South Africa in 1924, launched the study of fossil man in Africa. New discoveries continue to confirm the importance of this region to our understanding of human evolution. Outlining major developments since Raymond Dart's description of the Taung skull and, in particular, the impact of the pioneering work of Phillip V. Tobias, this book will be a valuable companion for students and researchers of human origins. It presents a summary of the current state of palaeoanthropology, reviewing the ideas that are central to the field, and provides a perspective on how future developments will shape our knowledge about hominin emergence in Africa. A wide range of key themes are covered, from the earliest fossils from Chad and Kenya, to the origins of bipedalism and the debate about how and where modern humans evolved and dispersed across Africa.
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Ochre nodules were ground to produce powder for use in replicated glues for hafting experiments. When ochre is obtained from nodules with a hard stone centre, the powder is most efficiently extracted by rotating the nodules on a coarse piece of stone. This rotation during grinding creates facets and some, though not all, of the nodules develop a crayon-like shape at the stage when they need to be discarded. Microscopic examination of these discards reveals identical striations and polish to those on worked ochre 'crayons' that were archaeologically recovered from Middle Stone Age layers of Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Thus, so-called ochre 'crayons' need careful residue and usewear analysis before any secondary function can be confirmed.
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Ochre is well-known as a substance used in Stone Age symbolism, but it can be shown to have had practical functions too. The authors used microscopic examination of Middle Stone Age tools to show they had been hafted, making use of an adhesive compound which included ochre in its recipe.
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We describe the protocol in the first in a series of experiments to replicate macro-fractures, use-wear and residue distribution patterns on stone tools of the kind used in the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of southern Africa. To our knowledge, no similar experiments have previously been conducted in the region. Unretouched convergent flakes were produced from a selection of raw materials, especially quartzite and hornfels, hafted and used as hunting spears and butchery knives on parts of a Connochaetes taurinus (blue wildebeest) carcass. The hunting experiments were compared with results obtained in Europe on flint tools, and tested whether the concept of diagnostic impact fracture types can be applied to local raw materials and southern African MSA points. The differences in residue distribution patterns between hafted tools used for hunting as opposed to those employed for butchering were also replicated and documented. The preliminary results of these experiments are briefly compared with an archaeological sample from Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal. We demonstrate for local raw materials and MSA points the applicability of the diagnostic impact fracture types as described by Fisher et al.1.
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This paper reports on preliminary observations and interpretations pertaining to a previously little-researched area and time frame. Artefacts, namely a bored stone, a grinding stone, an iron adze and fragments of what is concluded to be a clay grain bin, found in association during recent excavations on Melora Hilltop in Limpopo Province, are discussed in terms of both their mundane and ritual connotations. The ritual importance of seemingly mundane artefacts is implied. Their association and location argue for a shrine or place of ancestral ritual in a domestic space, possibly belonging to a person of status.
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Bored stones, in their various shapes and sizes, are an enigma in the prehistoric material culture of southern Africa. Most previous interpretations are unsatisfactorY and/or problematic and more recent interpretations almost all include the possibility of ritual use. This paper explains how bored stones and lithic rings could have functioned as objects of shamanism, ritual and symbolism within the communities of the Later Stone Age of southern Africa. It also refers to the fact that these artefacts are used in a ritual context among local agropastoralist communities. The study is based on local and international ethnography as well as recent microscopy performed on tithic rings.
This article relates an archaeological "culture" of northern New York to the Eastern Iroquois nations through the evidence of ceramic smoking pipes that are about 500 years old. After categorizing the objects on the basis of distinctive but thematically related imagery, I observe that their distribution is suggestive of an interaction sphere linking the St. Lawrence Iroquoians of Jefferson County with the Mohawks, Oneidas, and Onondagas elsewhere in present Upstate New York. Later historic descriptions imply that these pipes were connected with diplomatic ritual conducted by male representatives of those communities. The resulting geographical occurrence might be the archaeological footprint of alliances antedating the famous League of the Iroquois. Bearing remarkably elaborate designs, these objects are among the most iconographically complex compositions preserved in the Northeast. All depict themes of emergence, and some may illustrate a more extensive myth asserting the common origins of several groups. Fragments of similar stories survive to this day and are among the oldest oral narratives documented among the Iroquois. My interpretations of both the behavioral/social correlates and the meaning(s) of these pipes derive from applications of the direct historical method, an approach tapping the unsurpassed richness of the Iroquoian ethnographic and historic record.
Quatre morceaux de pigment dates du pleistocene moyen (un fragment de limonite et trois d'hematite) ont ete decouverts en 1996 lors de recherches preliminaires sur le site de Twin Rivers, en Zambie. Ces pigments semblent coincider avec l'evolution technologique menant aux outils composites qui marque la transition entre paleolithique ancien et moyen. L'utilisation systematique d'hematite est une caracteristique du paleolithique moyen sub-saharien a partir de 130 000 BP, mais la presence de pigments a Twin Rivers suggere l'emergence ancienne de la symbolique qui trouvera sa pleine expression a la fin du pleistocene.