How people used ochre at Rose Cottage Cave, South Africa: Sixty thousand years of evidence from the Middle Stone Age


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We describe colour, hardness, grain size, geological type and surface modifications of ochre pieces excavated, first by Malan and later by Harper, from the Middle Stone Age (MSA) of Rose Cottage Cave, 96, 000 to 30, 000 years ago. Soft, bright-red shales are abundant, and most ochre has clayey or silty grain sizes. The post-Howiesons Poort layers contain the most ochre pieces, but the Howiesons Poort layers have the highest frequency of ochre per sediment volume. The pre-Howiesons Poort layers have the highest utilization rate. Use-traces include rubbing, grinding, combined grinding and rubbing, and rare instances of scoring. The processing techniques are proxies for ochre use. Rubbing transfers red ochre powder directly onto soft surfaces, such as human skin, or animal hide. This is appropriate when skin colouring and marking or skin protection (for example from sun, insects or bacteria) is the purpose. Grinding produces ochre powder that can be used for a variety of tasks. It can be mixed with water or other products to create paint, cosmetics or adhesives. Multiple uses of ochre powder and ochre pieces are therefore implied at Rose Cottage and changes through time are apparent.

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