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PLoS One. 2015 Jul 6;10(7):e0131762. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131762. eCollection 2015.

Core-Shell Processing of Natural Pigment: Upper Palaeolithic Red Ochre from Lovas, Hungary.

Author information

1
Environmental Analytical and Geoanalytical Research Group, Szentágothai Research Centre, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary.
2
Environmental Analytical and Geoanalytical Research Group, Szentágothai Research Centre, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary; Department of Geology and Meteorology, University of Pécs, Pécs, Hungary.
3
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.
4
Department of Prehistory and Archaeology, Institute of History, University of Miskolc, Miskolc-Egyetemváros, Hungary.
5
Department of Human Evolution, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany; Department of Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.

Abstract

Ochre is the common archaeological term for prehistoric pigments. It is applied to a range of uses, from ritual burials to cave art to medications. While a substantial number of Palaeolithic paint mining pits have been identified across Europe, the link between ochre use and provenance, and their antiquity, has never yet been identified. Here we characterise the mineralogical signature of core-shell processed ochre from the Palaeolithic paint mining pits near Lovas in Hungary, using a novel integration of petrographic and mineralogical techniques. We present the first evidence for core-shell processed, natural pigment that was prepared by prehistoric people from hematitic red ochre. This involved combining the darker red outer shell with the less intensely coloured core to efficiently produce an economical, yet still strongly coloured, paint. We demonstrate the antiquity of the site as having operated between 14-13 kcal BP, during the Epigravettian period. This is based on new radiocarbon dating of bone artefacts associated with the quarry site. The dating results indicate the site to be the oldest known evidence for core-shell pigment processing. We show that the ochre mined at Lovas was exported from the site based on its characteristic signature at other archaeological sites in the region. Our discovery not only provides a methodological framework for future characterisation of ochre pigments, but also provides the earliest known evidence for "value-adding" of products for trade.

PMID:
26147808
PMCID:
PMC4509578
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0131762
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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