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Stone Age Art Kit found in South African Cave

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Archaeologists have discovered two sets of art kits thought to be 100,000 years old at a cave in South Africa. The findings provide a glimpse into how early humans produced and stored ochre – a form of paint – which pushes back our understanding of when evolved complex cognition occured by around 20,000 – 30,000 years.

The team of researchers, led by Professor Christopher Henshilwood from the universities of Bergen and Witwatersrand, believe that the orche was used for body painting or other forms of artwork. The research has been published in Science today.

Below you’ll see a beautiful set of photographs of the artefacts from the archaeological site. The two tool kits include abalone shells, ochre, bone, charcoal, grindstones and hammerstones. In the second and third photographs, you can clearly see residue of the red ochre on the abalone shells.

The ochre – made from soft rock with red or yellow pigments - was most likely ground into a fine powder by the use of quartzite cobbles. It would then have been mixed and heated with crushed stones or bones in the abalone shells. Microscopic inspection of the abalone surfaces reveals markings from paint mixing.

To find out more, listen to Scientific American’s 60 second podcast on the discovery here.

About the Author: Gozde Zorlu is a journalist specialising in science, medicine and international development, especially global health. Follow on Twitter @GozdeZorlu.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






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