Ochre Resources, Behavioural Complexity and Regional Patterns in the Howiesons Poort

New Insights From Klasies River Main Site, South Africa

in Journal of African Archaeology
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The widespread use of ochre during Oxygen Isotope Stage 5 and 4 in South Africa has often been interpreted as reflecting complex behaviours amongst modern human populations. The Howiesons Poort is one of the most documented techno-complexes identified within this timeframe. It is associated with an intensification of a combination of innovative technical and symbolic behaviours. Despite the notable focus on ochre use, detailed analyses of Howiesons Poort assemblages in this respect are rare. New data on ochre exploitation from the Howiesons Poort of Klasies River main site are presented in this paper. We used non-destructive microscopic, colorimetric and chemical analyses (sem-eds, xrd) in order to describe the raw materials and the transformation of a selected sample from the Singer and Wymer ochre collection. This sample is composed of red and yellow ferruginous rocks (shale, ferricrete, siltstone and sandstone), along with whitish lumps (calcium phosphates). These lumps may have an anthropogenic origin and may be considered as pigments. Some of the red ochre pieces were probably deliberately heated. Our results enhance the impression of complexity emerging from the technical processes mastered by Howiesons Poort populations. Comparison with other Howiesons Poort ochre assemblages allows a discussion of regional variability and ‘connections’ between the sites. The scale and organization of social interactions in the Howiesons Poort are questioned.

Ochre Resources, Behavioural Complexity and Regional Patterns in the Howiesons Poort

New Insights From Klasies River Main Site, South Africa

in Journal of African Archaeology



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    Location of Klasies River main site and the other Howiesons Poort sites cited in the text. drs: Diepkloof Rock Shelter; krm: Klasies River Main site; krs: Klipdtrift Rock Shelter; rcc: Rose Cottage Cave; sb: Sibudu Cave; umh: Umlhatuzana. Differences in font-size illustrate differences in information available, from data discussed in this study to references of purely qualitative data.
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    Photos of ‘ochre’ pieces from layer 13 to 16 of the Singer and Wymer excavations at Klasies River showing the main types of raw materials and anthropogenic modifications identified in this study. The collection is mainly composed of shale pieces (A to G), some of which are enriched in iron oxide (‘ferricrete’, H), along with fragments of iron crusts (‘ferricrete’, I), calcium phosphates (J and possibly K) and sandstones (L). Grinding facets recut by negative scars of percussion are observed on pieces A to C and one of the largest piece bearing at least two grooves (A).
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    sem images and eds analyses illustrating the different micro-structures and composition observed within the studied ‘ochre’ sample of Klasies River (A to E), compared to one piece from Diepkloof (F). A: platy-flow micro-structure of a shale fragment (ref13850); B: micro-structure of a fragment of shale with no organization (ref13896). C: crystalline micro-structure of a fragment of iron crust (‘ferricrete’, ref13836). D: platy-flow micro-structure of an iron enriched piece (ref13865). E: particles of calcium phosphates constituting one of the light coloured lumps (ref13889). F: platy-flow structure of a shale-ferricrete from the Howiesons Poort layer of Diepkloof (ref13689).
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    Geological map of the area of Klasies River and main hypotheses of provenance for the studied ‘ochre’ sample.
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    The different types of use-wear traces identified on the largest piece of the studied ‘ochre’ sample from Klasies River (ref13849). A: grinding facet exhibiting parallel striations (visible light); B: One of the grooves under visible light; C and D: the same groove under the sem (C: backscattered electron image; D: secondary electron image).
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    xrd patterns of red samples that may have been heated according to the unusual features of the hematite peaks (anisotropic broadening; overlapping with maghemite). A: standard hematite in a sample of shale. B: inversion of intensity of hematite peaks in a sample of ferricrete (either an anisotropic hematite or a mixture of hematite and maghemite); C: anisotropic broadening of hematite peaks in a sample of shale. Legend: H: hematite; Q: quartz; K: kaolinite; I/M: illite/muscovite; M: maghemite/magnetite.
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    Proportions of each type of raw material knapped (A) and ground (B) in the Klasies River ‘ochre’ sample.
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    Colorimetric coordinates of a representative sample from the Howiesons Poort of Klasies compared to a representative sample of Diepkloof. All the data have been presented in order to take into account the variability of each piece. The colour names indicated refer to Munsell chart categories. Munsell coordinates were directly calculated from the cielab coordinates. Symbols with black borders represent pieces bearing striated facets.

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