In African cave, signs of an ancient paint factory

A team has discovered the 100,000-year-old workshop at the Blombos Cave, 200 miles east of Cape Town.

New York: Archaeologists have uncovered what could claim is probably an ancient paint factory at a cave in South Africa.

An international team, led by the University of Bergen in Norway, has discovered the 100,000-year-old workshop at the Blombos Cave, 200 miles east of Cape Town, holding tools and ingredients with which early humans probably mixed some of the first known paint, `The New York Times` reported.

These cave artisans had stones for pounding and grinding colourful dirt enriched with a kind of iron oxide to a powder, known as ocher. This was blended with binding fat of mammal-bone marrow and a dash of charcoal.

Traces of ocher were left on the tools, and samples of the reddish compound were collected in large abalone shells, where the paint was liquefied, stirred and scooped out with a bone spatula, say the archaeologists.

According to them, the workshop remains show the earliest example yet of how emergent Homo sapiens processed ocher, one of the species` first pigments in wide use, its red colour apparently rich in symbolic significance.

The early humans may have applied the concoction to their skin for protection or decoration, say the archaeologists who have called this evidence of early conceptual abilities "a benchmark in the evolution of complex human cognition".

The discovery dials back the date when the modern Homo sapiens population was known to have started using paint. Previously, no workshop older than 60,000 years had come to light, and the earliest cave and rock art began appearing about 40,000 years ago.

The cave people in South Africa were already learning to find, combine and store substances, skills that reflected advanced technology and social practices as well as the creativity of the self-aware.

The paint makers also appeared to have developed an elementary knowledge of chemistry and some understanding of long-term planning earlier than previously thought.

Christopher S Henshilwood, who led the team, said that it had taken a great deal of time and repeated testing to determine the age of the material and "make sure that the ocherous-looking deposits on each tool did in fact relate to
the substance within the shells."

The findings have been published in the `Science` journal.


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