Archaeologists discover the oldest ocher workshop in East Asia

ocher pigment (via Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers excavating a 40,000-year-old archaeological site in northeast China have discovered an ocher processing workshop that is the oldest such example in East Asia. Other artifacts found at the Xiamabei site, such as a hammer stone, limestone slab, animal bones and ocher fragments, suggest that powders of various hues and grain sizes were there. produced. Ochre, a natural clay earth pigment, was used to make oil paint for rock art and as a key ingredient in adhesives and insect repellents, among other applications.

The process of making and refining ocher involved knowledge and skill and required the use of particular tools. Archaeologists working on the site believe the workshop was operated by Homo sapiens, but also leaves open the possibility that Denisovans or Neanderthals inhabited it. In particular, what they observed at Xiamabei did not completely match the characteristics of comparable sites inhabited during the same period.

“The North Asian record supports a process of technological innovations and cultural diversification emerging in a period of hominin hybridization and admixture,” they wrote in the abstract of their research paper, published in review Nature.

Michael Petraglia, a professor at Griffith University and co-author of the study, said the Guardian that “there could have been a lot of interbreeding, and so we are dealing with populations that are both biologically and culturally different 40,000 years ago”.

Scientists have proof that Homo sapiens were present in this region at that time: research in 2015 indicates that Homo sapiens had migrated from Africa to East Asia 100,000 years ago, and a 40,000-year-old Homo sapiens fossil was dug up about 60 miles from Xiamabei. Older ocher processing workshops have been discovered, such as one in South Africa excavated in 2008 which was mined 100,000 years ago. But if actually used by Homo sapiensthe ocher of Xiamabei offers a unique insight into the activities and penchant for the symbolic representation of the particular people who inhabited the site.

“Ochre provides insight into people’s knowledge of the world around them,” said Rachel Popelka-Filcoff, an archaeologist at the University of Melbourne. told the newspaper Science. “You have to have the ability to get it, change its properties, use it, and when you’re talking about symbolic practices, you have to have communities around you to understand that symbolism.”

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