Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
, 109 (6), 1889-94

Use of Red Ochre by Early Neandertals

Affiliations

Use of Red Ochre by Early Neandertals

Wil Roebroeks et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

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).

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
The two largest hematite concentrates from site C at Maastricht-Belvédère. (Left) Concretion Dz23-16 against the background of the fine-grained fluvial deposit from which it was recovered. Dessication of the matrix caused breakage of the concentrate. (Right) Concretion Bv-894, ∼2 mm thick, shown during excavation in Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Site C, square Fz14, find Bv-894 (Fig. 1) during excavation, January 28, 1982. A flint flake can be seen next to the hematite concentrate.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Distribution map of the site C finds, showing the positions of the 15 hematite dots. Excavation squares coordinate grid is in meters. The southeastern part of the site, indicated in gray, was disturbed by karst. (Source: figure 27 from ref. .)
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
Refitted group of 162 flint flakes, composing the remains of a flat disk-like core, recovered from the southern part of Maastricht-Belvédère site C. This composition is one of the many refits demonstrating the primary context character of the site C assemblage (15).
Fig. 5.
Fig. 5.
Map indicating the location of Maastricht (-Belvédère) and the Ardennes iron ore sources (in red) of the Liège-Dinant-Namur area (1) as well as the Eifel sources (2, 3) (modified after ref. 33). The arrow indicates the transfer of flint artifacts from the Maastricht Cretaceous chalk area to the East Eifel sites of Wannen and Schweinskopf, as discussed in the text. Terrain >500 m above sea level is indicated in dark green.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 27 PubMed Central articles

See all "Cited by" articles

Publication types

LinkOut - more resources

Feedback