Engraved ochres from the Middle Stone Age levels at Blombos Cave, South Africa


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Powerful categories of evidence for symbolically mediated behaviour, variously described as ‘modern’ or ‘cognitively modern’ human behaviour, are geometric or iconographic representations. After 40,000 years ago such evidence is well documented in much of the Old World and is widely considered as typifying ‘modern human culture,’ but earlier evidence is rare. In Africa, this includes two deliberately engraved ochre pieces from c. 75,000 year old levels at Blombos Cave, Western Cape, South Africa and the greater than 55,000 year old incised ostrich egg shell from the Diepkloof shelter, located in the same province. Here we report on thirteen additional pieces of incised ochre recovered from c. 75,000–100,000 year old levels at Blombos Cave. These finds, taken together with other engraved objects reported from other southern African sites, suggest that symbolic intent and tradition were present in this region at an earlier date than previously thought.


Ocher, Mesolithic period, Africa, South Africa, Western Cape, Blombos Cave

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Africa; South Africa; Western Cape; Blombos Cave

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Volume 57, Issue 1 21 p.