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Ochre in the Middle Stone Age of Southern Africa: Ritualised Display or Hide Preservative?

Ian Watts
The South African Archaeological Bulletin
Vol. 57, No. 175 (Jun., 2002), pp. 1-14
DOI: 10.2307/3889102
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3889102
Page Count: 14
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Ochre in the Middle Stone Age of Southern Africa: Ritualised Display or Hide Preservative?
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Abstract

Symbolic and utilitarian interpretations have been proposed for red ochre use in the African Middle Stone Age, but these have rarely been developed. This paper reviews the hypotheses, recasts them in more explicit form and addresses the need for basic data for quantifying and describing ochre assemblages and for synthesizing observations across a range of sites. Percentages of utilized material, by geological form and streak, from Late Pleistocene shelter sequences in southern Africa are used to investigate past selective preferences. Materials with saturated red streaks are disproportionately represented among utilized pieces, particularly among crayons. The findings are most consistent with use as pigment in a costly signalling strategy involving ritualized display. Theoretical and substantive grounds are given for inferring that the context for such display was probably collective ritual.

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