Monday, February 13, 2012

Neanderthals Used Red Ochre Pigment 250,000 Years Ago

We have seen cave paintings where the splashy red pigment was used to create images by ancient humans in present-day Europe tens of thousands of years ago. Scientists have said that ancient humans used it generally in Europe about 40,000 - 60,000 years ago, in West Asia as long ago as 100,000 years, and by the ancients in Africa as long ago as 200,000-250,000 years. Now, a new study suggests that Neanderthals were also using it in the present-day Netherlands region of Europe as far back as 200,000-250,000 years ago, if not earlier.

The study, conducted by a team of scientists led by W. Roebroeks of Leiden University, examined and analyzed a sample of red material retrieved from excavations originally conducted during the 1980's at the Maastricht-Belvédère Neanderthal site in the Netherlands. The excavations exposed scatterings of well-preserved flint and bone artifacts that were produced in a river valley during the Middle Pleistocene full interglacial period. During the coarse of the excavation, soil samples were also collected, a typical procedure when excavating a site. Within the soil samples were traces of a reddish material. The samples were subjected to various forms of analyses and experimentation to study their physical properties. They identified the reddish material as hematite, a common mineral form of iron oxide that was used for pigmentation by prehistoric populations.

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