Red Ocher Paleolithic Burial Caves

Subj: Red Ocher use in paleolithic burial cave practices
Date: 8/14/2006 1:36:12 AM Central Standard Time

Stone Age Code Red: Scarlet symbols emerge in Israeli cave

Bruce Bower

The Qafzeh Cave in Israel contains skeletal remains of modern Homo sapiens that are more than 90,000 years old, as well as more-recent signs of human occupation. Investigators now say that red ocher found in Qafzeh Cave's oldest sections supports the controversial theory that symbolic thinking, a hallmark of modern-day human thought, arose deep in the Stone Age.

HUE CLUE. An ancient lump of red ocher excavated at Qafzeh Cave contains evidence of scraping by stone implements.
G. Laron, Inst. of Archaeology/Hebrew Univ.

Archaeologists traditionally have held that the assigning of separate meanings to certain items or colors emerged no more than 50,000 years ago, with the appearance of Upper Paleolithic cultures.

In the Middle East and Eurasia, however, "many symbolic behaviors that are considered modern existed for a time [before the Upper Paleolithic] and then disappeared, to be reinvented time and again," contends Erella Hovers of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who directed the Qafzeh project.

Her argument hinges on the discovery of 71 pieces of red ocher, a form of iron oxide typically used as a pigment, as well as ocher-stained stone tools, near several of Qafzeh's oldest H. sapiens graves. The same sediment holds the remains of large hearths and, intriguingly, scattered shells of inedible mollusks Preliminary chemical analyses indicate that the ocher had been heated.

In the August-October Current Anthropology, Hovers and her coworkers propose that, more than 90,000 years ago, lumps of ocher from nearby sources were brought to the cave, carefully heated in hearths to yield specific hues of red, and used with the shells in possibly symbolic activities related to burying the dead.

Evidence of similar ocher use near human graves doesn't appear again at Qafzeh Cave until 12,700 years ago, the scientists say.

The precise meanings of the ocher-based practices remain unknown, Hovers notes. Many nonindustrial societies today regard the color red as symbolic of fertility or vitality.

Prehistoric artwork and other symbolic expressions commonly occurred in large populations that stayed for extended periods at resource-rich locations, Hovers says. In the small, nomadic groups typical of Stone Age Middle East, a capacity for symbolic behavior would have surfaced only for special activities at designated sites, such as the interment of the dead at Qafzeh Cave, she argues.

Several commentaries appear with the new report and offer mixed reactions to Hovers' analysis of the Qafzeh artifacts.

According to Sally McBrearty of the University of Connecticut in Storrs, for example, ocher processing at Qafzeh adds to evidence of "the very great antiquity of the color red as a symbolic category." Engraved ocher dates to 77,000 years ago in South Africa (SN: 1/19/02, p. 40: Available to subscribers at http://www.sciencenews.org/20020119/note...), she notes.

However, Richard G. Klein of Stanford University argues that ocher use represented merely a step toward advanced symbolic culture, which he says H. sapiens established around 50,000 years ago.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/CA/jour...

An Early Case of Color Symbolism
Ochre Use by Modern Humans in Qafzeh Cave1 by Erella Hovers, Shimon Ilani, Ofer Bar-Yosef, and Bernard Vandermeersch
Prehistoric archaeology provides the temporal depth necessary for understanding the evolution of the unique human ability to construct and use complex symbol systems. The long-standing focus on language, a symbol system that does not leave direct evidence in the material record, has led to interpretations based on material proxies of this abstract behavior. The ambiguities resulting from this situation may be reduced by focusing on systems that use material objects as the carriers of their symbolic contents, such as color symbolism. Given the universality of some aspects of color symbolism in extant human societies, this article focuses on the 92,000-year-old ochre record from Qafzeh Cave terrace to examine whether the human capacity for symbolic behavior could have led to normative systems of symbolic culture as early as Middle Paleolithic times. Geochemical and petrographic analyses are used to test the hypothesis that ochre was selected and mined specifically for its color. Ochre is found to occur through time in association with other finds unrelated to mundane tasks. It is suggested that such associations fulfill the hierarchical relationships that are the essence of a symbolic referential framework and are consistent with the existence of symbolic culture. The implications of these findings for understanding the evolution of symbolic culture in the contexts of the African and Levantine prehistoric records are explored.

ERELLA HOVERS is a lecturer in the Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem 91905, Israel [hovers@h2.hum.huji.ac.il]). Her fields of interest include Middle Paleolithic lithic technology and human ecology, the evolution of symbolic behavior and of human cognition and consciousness, and the archaeology of the Late Pliocene and early Pleistocene.SHIMON ILANI is a researcher in the Geological Survey of Israel. His main interests are petrography, mineralogy, and geochemistry.OFER BAR-YOSEF is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University. He is interested in the cultural sequence of the Middle Paleolithic, the demise of the Neandertals, the emergence of Upper Paleolithic entities, and the Neolithic revolution in the Near East.BERNARD VANDERMEERSCH, now retired, was a professor of physical anthropology at the University of Bordeaux. He is interested in human evolution, particularly in the issues of Neandertals and modern humans and their cultural and environmental context.

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
thefloppy1's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
1 year 30 weeks

as you know I have been studying a little about RED as well.
Thanks again for the links and info in my blog "the red sun". This colour has a very interesting history don't you think? Could it be simply because our blood appears red or maybe much more. The ancients could have associated red with life so it could be that simple. But I think not. Red is a powerful colour and with the healing effects that are proven then there very well could be much more to it.
Thanks again Pam....

plw12752anderson's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
9 years 22 weeks

Hi floppy, I grew up in an area where the dirt was nearly pure red. Whole hills would be mined for the iron rich pure sand like soil. Here it is mainly used for providing a base for the concrete foundations or stuctures to be built atop it. I always thought it had to have been from a meteorite as the gulf of Mexico and the Carolinas have many places known for the strikes of meteors or asteroids causing lakes and anomolies. I also see from photos, films, movies and television and have read of the areas out west in the United States vast tracts of red rocks and red sand. I have also seen places in various parts of the world that have this also like Africa, China, many middle eastern countries and Russia as well as Australia. Were we inudated millions of years ago with red rocks and dust? Just an after thought, Here the wells and drilled deep wells and springs show lots of different minerals because my mother said that was why it was called "hard" water. That was why we saved water in rain barrels, because when we washed this water would actually chemically react with shampoo and detergent and discolor and dull our hair and clothes so we used the rain water as it was "soft" and we didn't have a problem with it, just had to boil it first. My granmother had tea kettles that she always kept full on her big iron stove, over the years this hard water caused a build up inside of the teakettle. Honestly it would completely clog it up, one time she got mad because it would not pour out and threw into the chicken yard, the whole bottom cracked out of it and it was over two inches thick in the thinnest place and over three inches thick on the bottom and sides. So, the red dirt was full of these minerals, made great growing for crops though. Corn grew so tall and cotton so thick and vegetables, nuts and fruit, really big. Three crops or more of hay and lots of good grazing land for the animals. It really had a lot to do with how much rain we got also. I can remember my parents discussing the dust bowl back in the thirties blew in from the west great heaps of brown red dust. When the stripping of timber and poor farming practices were implemented it caused the soil to erode and when the droughts came the broken tilled land crackled and dried up then blew away. It was a tragedy at that time. My family mentioned having to stuff every window and door crack with newspaper and cloth because it sifted in the house so bad. We need to keep on looking at all this red stuff and keep one another updated on it! -----------------------------Truth is stranger than fiction.

thefloppy1's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
1 year 30 weeks

there is a lot of red soil not far from here to, at a town called "Toowoomba". Before I moved back here to the bush I lived at a place called "Redland Bay" for obvious reasons. When we built houses there on slabs we covered the carport slab with thick plastic as soon as possible otherwise it would be stained red before we finnished the house.
I have just came back from the paddock where I have been feeding the bull "Wiskey" with grain. Also counting the new calves and recording their birth date and mothers tag number. As I stood there keeping the large horned cows from steeling the bulls grain and hurting him with their horns, I realised that all the cattle are red too...Santa Gertrudis. Well reddish brown but are known as red.
You would think that blue would have had more significants because of water and the sky but it seems to play a very small role in our lives. Red is very dominant in all our lives really. When you think about it.
Thanks Pam..

Kathrinn's picture
Member since:
10 August 2004
Last activity:
2 years 48 weeks

...that this planet is covered 70% with water and yet we call it 'EARTH'. Why would that be, I wonder?

Regards, Kathrinn.

earthling's picture
Member since:
22 November 2004
Last activity:
6 days 13 hours

Maybe because we walk better than we swim?

Or maybe it is the fault of the agriculturalist religions.

plw12752anderson's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
Last activity:
9 years 22 weeks

To wear a red hat meant that they were for freedom, seeking liberty and against oppression.
http://www.wehaitians.com/the%20influenc...

excerpt below-

One artist combines symbols of Americana and of oppression.
The show, which runs through Jan. 7, is part of an 18-month program in which the historical society is exploring the theme of slavery in New York and the nation. The "Slavery in New York" exhibition closed on March 26 after six months, and "New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War," opens on Nov. 17 and continues through April. The goal, museum officials say, is to illustrate slavery's indelible legacy in American life and culture.
"I had been interested in how design influences culture, how design is emblematic of culture," Mr. Wilson said. The balustrade, he learned, was part of a redesign of the 1699 City Hall building by L'Enfant, who was French-born and fought with the colonists during the American Revolution. "I was interested in the French-American connection."
As Mr. Wilson installed his then still-untitled project last Thursday, Ms. Copeland arrived with a finishing touch. It was a bright red "liberty cap" for the tobacco-shop figurine. Since Roman times, in many cultures and countries around the world, such caps have been worn by formerly enslaved people to signal their new freedom.

"No one will know what this is," Mr. Wilson said of the cap. And that, he said, may well encourage visitors to think about what it means.

-----------------------------Truth is stranger than fiction.