The symbolic and functional exploitation of ochre during the South African Middle Stone Age

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dc.contributor.author Rifkin, Riaan Francois
dc.date.accessioned 2012-08-27T07:12:20Z
dc.date.available 2012-08-27T07:12:20Z
dc.date.issued 2012-08-27
dc.identifier.uri http://hdl.handle.net/10539/11832
dc.description.abstract Ochre is a ubiquitous artefact in Middle Stone Age (MSA) contexts throughout Africa and the Near East. Archaeological evidence for the abrasive processing of ochre to extract pigment powder becomes increasingly prevalent after 100 ka. The habitual exploitation of ochre is interpreted as evidence for symbolism, a proxy for the origin of language and as a key element of ‘symbolic’ and ‘modern’ human behaviour. Evolutionary explanations agree that ochre and the products of its processing played a significant role in the adaptive strategies of early modern humans, but they differ in the functions assigned to it. I therefore ask the following question: What role did symbolic and functional applications of ochre play in the enhancement of prehistoric technology, and how may these have functioned to promote and maintain social relations within MSA Homo sapiens societies? With the aim of answering this question, I follow a chaîne opératoire approach to elucidate the exploitation of ochre during the MSA. First, I present the results of an experimental study devised to infer the methods employed to process ochre. It is demonstrated that functional data derived from actualistic experiments can enhance our understanding prehistoric behaviour. Second, I describe one of the oldest instances of a deliberate engraving on ochre at 100 ka to 85 ka. I consider the possibility that specific types of raw material were selected for engraving purposes and expand on whether all engraved depictions inevitably functioned in ‘symbolic’ contexts. The third objective entails the evaluation of an often cited functional hypothesis for ochre, namely the use of red ochre as a ‘hide-tanning’ ingredient. I also introduce and discuss three further functional hypotheses, namely those concerning the use of ochre as a form of mineral supplementation and detoxification agent, as a sunprotection element and as an insect repellent. Ethnoarchaeological research has proven to be informative in terms of revealing a range of functional uses for red ochre. I therefore consider how data derived from the Ovashimba of northern Namibia can enhance current understandings of ochre use in the MSA. I propose that in order to assess any hypothesis concerning the exploitation of ochre in the MSA methodically and in a scientific manner, it is necessary to engage with the theories and analytical methods of cognitive and technical sciences not normally viewed as applicable to archaeological enquiry. en_ZA
dc.language.iso en en_ZA
dc.subject.lcsh Stone Age - South Africa.
dc.subject.lcsh South Africa - Antiquities.
dc.subject.lcsh Pigments.
dc.title The symbolic and functional exploitation of ochre during the South African Middle Stone Age en_ZA
dc.type Thesis en_ZA


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