Ochre and pigment use at Hohle Fels cave: Results of the first systematic review of ochre and ochre-related artefacts from the Upper Palaeolithic in Germany

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Abstract

Though many European Upper Palaeolithic sites document early examples of symbolic material expressions (e.g., cave art, personal ornaments, figurines), there exist few reports on the use of earth pigments outside of cave art–and occasionally Neanderthal–contexts. Here, we present the first in-depth study of the diachronic changes in ochre use throughout an entire Upper Palaeolithic sequence at Hohle Fels cave, Germany, spanning from ca. 44,000–14,500 cal. yr. BP. A reassessment of the assemblage has yielded 869 individual ochre artefacts, of which 27 show traces of anthropogenic modification. The ochre artefacts are from all Upper Palaeolithic layers, stemming from the earliest Aurignacian horizons to the Holocene. This wide temporal spread demonstrates the longterm
presence and continuity of ochre use in a part of Europe where it has not been systematically reported before. The anthropogenic modifications present on the ochre artefacts from the Gravettian and Magdalenian are consistent with pigment powder production, whereas the only modified piece from the Aurignacian displays a possible engraved motif. The non-modified artefacts show that more hematite-rich specular ochres as well as fine-grained deep red iron oxide clays were preferred during the Gravettian and Magdalenian, while the Aurignacian layers contain a broader array of colours and textures. Furthermore, numerous other artefacts such as faunal elements, personal ornaments, shells, and an ochre grindstone further strengthen the conclusion that ochre behaviours were well established during the onset of the Aurignacian and subsequently flourished throughout the Upper Palaeolithic at Hohle Fels cave.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0209874
JournalP L o S One
Volume13
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Dec 2018

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Caves
systematic review
caves
Pigments
Artifacts
Germany
pigments
iron oxides
arts
Powders
powders
Art
Textures
texture
clay
Earth (planet)
Display devices
Color
color
ferric oxide

Cite this

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title = "Ochre and pigment use at Hohle Fels cave: Results of the first systematic review of ochre and ochre-related artefacts from the Upper Palaeolithic in Germany",
abstract = "Though many European Upper Palaeolithic sites document early examples of symbolic material expressions (e.g., cave art, personal ornaments, figurines), there exist few reports on the use of earth pigments outside of cave art–and occasionally Neanderthal–contexts. Here, we present the first in-depth study of the diachronic changes in ochre use throughout an entire Upper Palaeolithic sequence at Hohle Fels cave, Germany, spanning from ca. 44,000–14,500 cal. yr. BP. A reassessment of the assemblage has yielded 869 individual ochre artefacts, of which 27 show traces of anthropogenic modification. The ochre artefacts are from all Upper Palaeolithic layers, stemming from the earliest Aurignacian horizons to the Holocene. This wide temporal spread demonstrates the longtermpresence and continuity of ochre use in a part of Europe where it has not been systematically reported before. The anthropogenic modifications present on the ochre artefacts from the Gravettian and Magdalenian are consistent with pigment powder production, whereas the only modified piece from the Aurignacian displays a possible engraved motif. The non-modified artefacts show that more hematite-rich specular ochres as well as fine-grained deep red iron oxide clays were preferred during the Gravettian and Magdalenian, while the Aurignacian layers contain a broader array of colours and textures. Furthermore, numerous other artefacts such as faunal elements, personal ornaments, shells, and an ochre grindstone further strengthen the conclusion that ochre behaviours were well established during the onset of the Aurignacian and subsequently flourished throughout the Upper Palaeolithic at Hohle Fels cave.",
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N2 - Though many European Upper Palaeolithic sites document early examples of symbolic material expressions (e.g., cave art, personal ornaments, figurines), there exist few reports on the use of earth pigments outside of cave art–and occasionally Neanderthal–contexts. Here, we present the first in-depth study of the diachronic changes in ochre use throughout an entire Upper Palaeolithic sequence at Hohle Fels cave, Germany, spanning from ca. 44,000–14,500 cal. yr. BP. A reassessment of the assemblage has yielded 869 individual ochre artefacts, of which 27 show traces of anthropogenic modification. The ochre artefacts are from all Upper Palaeolithic layers, stemming from the earliest Aurignacian horizons to the Holocene. This wide temporal spread demonstrates the longtermpresence and continuity of ochre use in a part of Europe where it has not been systematically reported before. The anthropogenic modifications present on the ochre artefacts from the Gravettian and Magdalenian are consistent with pigment powder production, whereas the only modified piece from the Aurignacian displays a possible engraved motif. The non-modified artefacts show that more hematite-rich specular ochres as well as fine-grained deep red iron oxide clays were preferred during the Gravettian and Magdalenian, while the Aurignacian layers contain a broader array of colours and textures. Furthermore, numerous other artefacts such as faunal elements, personal ornaments, shells, and an ochre grindstone further strengthen the conclusion that ochre behaviours were well established during the onset of the Aurignacian and subsequently flourished throughout the Upper Palaeolithic at Hohle Fels cave.

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