Use of red ochre by early Neandertals
Wil Roebroeks a,1, Mark J. Sier a,b,c, Trine Kellberg Nielsen a, Dimitri De Loecker a, Josep Maria Parés b, Charles E. S. Arps d, and Herman J. Mücher e,2
aFaculty of Archaeology, Leiden University, 2300 RA, Leiden, The Netherlands;
bCentro Nacional de Investigación Sobre la Evolución Humana, 09002 Burgos, Spain;
cPaleomagnetic Laboratory Fort Hoofddijk, Department of Earth Sciences, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, 3584 CD, Utrecht, The Netherlands;
dNCB Naturalis, 2300 RA, Leiden, The Netherlands; and
eUniversity of Amsterdam, 6301 VK, Valkenburg, The Netherlands
Edited by Richard G. Klein, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, and approved December 20, 2011 (received for review July 27, 2011)
The use of manganese and iron oxides by late Neandertals is well documented in Europe, especially for the period 60–40 kya. Such finds often have been interpreted as pigments even though their exact function is largely unknown. Here we report significantly older iron oxide finds that constitute the earliest documented use of red ochre by Neandertals. These finds were small concentrates of red material retrieved during excavations at Maastricht-Belvédère, The Netherlands. The excavations exposed a series of well-preserved flint artifact (and occasionally bone) scatters, formed in a river valley setting during a late Middle Pleistocene full interglacial period. Samples of the reddish material were submitted to various forms of analyses to study their physical properties. All analyses identified the red material as hematite. This is a nonlocal material that was imported to the site, possibly over dozens of kilometers. Identification of the Maastricht-Belvédère finds as hematite pushes the use of red ochre by (early) Neandertals back in time significantly, to minimally 200–250 kya (i.e., to the same time range as the early ochre use in the African record).
human evolution, paleolithic archeology, Middle Paleolithic, mineral pigments
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Author contributions: W.R. and T.K.N. designed research; W.R., M.J.S., D.D.L., J.M.P., C.E.S.A., and H.J.M. performed research; W.R., M.J.S., J.M.P., C.E.S.A., and H.J.M. analyzed data; and W.R., M.J.S., and T.K.N. wrote the paper.
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.
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