The pigments from Pinnacle Point Cave 13B, Western Cape, South Africa


Ian Watts


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Journal of Human Evolution

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Earth pigments from the three excavations at Pinnacle Point Cave 13B (Western Cape Province, South Africa), spanning the terminal middle Pleistocene and earlier late Pleistocene, are described and analyzed. Qualitative geological categorization primarily rested on textural, fabric, and iron enrichment attributes. Comprehensive recovery allowed identification of non-anthropic pigmentaceous materials, questionable pigments, and 380 pigments (1.08 kg). Less chemically altered pigments were typically fine-grained sedimentary (FGS) rocks, tending to be soft, highly micaceous, prone to laminar fragmentation, and with reddish-brown streaks of intermediate nuance. More iron-enriched forms tended to be harder, denser, poorly micaceous, and with redder streaks of more saturated nuance. Some still qualified as FGS forms, but a large number were categorized as sandstone or iron oxide. Despite some temporal change in raw material profiles, circumstantial evidence suggests primarily local procurement from one outcrop throughout the sequence. Definitely utilized pieces (12.7%) were overwhelmingly ground. Unusual forms of modification include several notched pieces and a deliberately scraped ‘chevron.’ Controlling for fragmentation, streak properties of utilized versus unutilized pieces were used to investigate selective criteria. There was robust evidence for preferential grinding of the reddest materials, strongly suggestive evidence for saturation and darkness being subordinate selective criteria, and some indication of more intensive grinding of materials with the reddest, most saturated, and darkest streaks, and for some deliberate heating of pigments. These findings challenge the initial stages of color lexicalization predicted by the various versions of the basic color term (BCT) hypothesis, they provide grounds for rejecting hafting as a general explanatory hypothesis, and they cannot be accounted for by incidental heating. The results are more consistent with agreed upon canons of ornamentation than with individual display. It is concluded that the material was processed to produce saturated red pigment powders. On theoretical grounds, these are presumed to have served primarily as body paints in ritual performance.

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