A Milk and Ochre Paint Mixture Used 49,000 Years Ago at Sibudu, South Africa
An international research team led by the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa has discovered a milk-and ochre-based paint dating to 49,000 years ago that inhabitants may have used to adorn themselves with or to decorate stone or wooden slabs.
Milk-based paints are still used today.
While the use of ochre by early humans dates to at least 250,000 years ago in Europe and Africa, this is the first time a paint containing ochre and milk has ever been found in association with early humans in South Africa, said Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History and lead study author. The milk likely was obtained by killing lactating members of the bovid family such as buffalo, eland, kudu and impala, she said. The assumption is that humans didn’t raise lactating animals back then.
Cattle were not domesticated in South Africa until 1,000 to 2,000 years ago, said Villa. Wild South African bovids are known to separate from the herd when giving birth and usually attempt to hide their young, a behavior that may have made them easy prey for experienced Middle Stone Age hunters, she said.
Still odd, considering that one would get way more paint base by keeping the animal alive and milking her… So the people studied mustn’t have realized that milk declines in a mammal as her offspring need it less, thus pull less often on the teat? But that is true in humans, too, which people must have known from life experience. …? Well, we’ll see. Meanwhile:
Body painting is widely practiced by the indigenous San people in South Africa, and is depicted in ancient rock art. While there are no ethnographic precedents for mixing ochre with milk as a body paint, the modern Himba people in Namibia mix ochre with butter as a coloring agent for skin, hair and leather clothing, Villa said. More.
Fashion. Who’s to argue with fashion?
Here’s the abstract:
Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, proteomic and scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDS) analyses of residue on a stone flake from a 49,000 year-old layer of Sibudu (South Africa) indicate a mixture of ochre and casein from milk, likely obtained by killing a lactating wild bovid. Ochre powder production and use are documented in Middle Stone Age South African sites but until now there has been no evidence of the use of milk as a binder. Our analyses show that this ochre-based mixture was neither a hafting adhesive nor a residue left after treating animal skins, but a liquid mixture consisting of a powdered pigment mixed with milk; in other words, a paint medium that could have been applied to a surface or to human skin. The significance of our finds also lies in the fact that it establishes the antiquity of the use of milk as a binder well before the introduction of domestic cattle in South Africa in the first millennium AD. (public access) – Paola Villa, Luca Pollarolo, Ilaria Degano, Leila Birolo, Marco Pasero, Cristian Biagioni, Katerina Douka, Roberto Vinciguerra, Jeannette J. Lucejko, Lyn Wadley. A Milk and Ochre Paint Mixture Used 49,000 Years Ago at Sibudu, South Africa. PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (6): e0131273 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131273
See also: Human evolution is not what they tell us
Follow UD News at Twitter!