Saturday, April 21, 2012


Photo by Wil Roebroeks

An article written by Zach Zorich in the May/June 2012 (Vol. 65, No. 3) issue of Archaeology, Journal of the Archaeological Institute of America, and titled Neanderthals in Color, provides confirmation of the use of red ochre at a site in the Netherlands by Neandertals at least 200,000 years ago.

Zorich wrote: "In 1981, when Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University was beginning his archaeological career, he ran across some red stains in the grayish sediments on the floodplain of the Maas River where his team was excavating. The site, called Maastricht-Belvèdère, in The Netherlands, was occupied by Neanderthals at least 200,000 years ago. Roebroeks collected and stored samples of the red stains, and 30 years later he received funding to analyze them. It became apparent that he and his team had discovered the earliest evidence of hominins using the mineral iron oxide, also known as ocher. Until now, the use of ocher—as a red pigment in rock paintings, an ingredient in glue, and for tanning hides, among other things—was thought to be a hallmark of modern human behavior. While the manner in which the mineral was used at Maastricht-Belvèdère is something of a mystery, the find has had an impact on the question of whether ocher use represents modern behavior. "This whole debate is now to some degree a non-debate," Roebroeks says, "because Neanderthals were already doing this 200,000 years ago."

If these Neandertal people were using red ochre at that time they might have been creating images with it. At least they had the requisite materials to use the pigment as a paint or a crayon to create pictographs with. There is, of course, no proof of that in this report, but I think that we now have to at least allow for the speculation of its possibility and, if we accept it as possible, who is to say that Neandertal rock art may not be discovered too.

© 2012, by the Archaeological Institute of America

1 comment:

  1. Although I have always wondered about the use of pigments by the Neandertals, I speculate that their ochre use was more body adornment than as rock art. Still, it would be nice if rock art attributed exclusivley to Neandertals would be found.