Sunday, October 16, 2011
Prehistoric Painters Planned Ahead
When Vincent Van Gogh moved to the southern French town of Arles in 1888, he painted nearly 200 vivid canvasses before cutting off his left ear in a fit of madness. This artistic explosion was possible in part because Van Gogh kept his brushes, paints, and palette constantly at the ready. A new discovery in South Africa suggests that prehistoric human painters also planned ahead, using ochre paint kits as early as 100,000 years ago. But just what they used the paints for is still a matter of debate.
Red or yellow ochre, an iron-containing pigment found in some clays, is ubiquitous at early modern human sites in Africa and the Near East. Some researchers think the earliest known art comes from the site of Blombos in South Africa, about 300 kilometers east of Cape Town, where pieces of ochre incised with an abstract design have been dated to 77,000 years old. Scientists have found even earlier signs of ochre use at Blombos and other sites as old as 165,000 years, but solid evidence that the pigment was used in artistic or other symbolic communication has been lacking.
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