Neanderthals were using paint 250,000 years ago - 'thousands of years earlier than previously thought'By Ted Thornhill
Last updated at 7:56 AM on 24th January 2012
Neanderthals were using red paint up to 250,000 years ago - far earlier than previously thought.
Traces of the paint, made from ochre, were dug up in the Netherlands and dated to a quarter of a million years ago.
Scientists are keeping an open mind as to what the sub-species ["sub-species? Oh please!] of humans did with it back then although it is often considered a sign of symbolic behaviour such as artwork and body painting.
They examined small quantities of red material on well-preserved flint and bones dug up from an archaeological site in Maastricht in the Netherlands, reports the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
State-of-the-art X-ray techniques revealed the presence of an iron oxide called hematite, a metal that was not part of the sedimentary environment and probably entered as drops from an ochre-rich liquid.
Dr Wil Roebroeks, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, and colleagues said the use of iron oxides by late Neanderthals is well documented in Europe especially between 60 and 40 years ago.
They said: ‘Such finds often have been interpreted as pigments even though their exact function is largely unknown.
‘Here we report significantly older iron oxide finds that constitute the earliest documented use of red ochre by Neanderthals.
‘This is a non-local material that was imported to the site, possibly over dozens of kilometres.’
They said their discovery pushes the use of red ochre by early Neanderthals ‘back in time significantly’ to at least 200 to 250,000 years ago - the same time range as the early ochre use in the African record.
Recent debates on Neanderthal culture have highlighted that sites occasionally contain pieces of iron oxides, interpreted as pigments, possibly for personal decoration.
Modern hunter-gatherers are known to have used red ochre for medication, as a food preservative, in tanning of hides and as insect repellent. [Notice how the article is careful to say that red ochre was not used for personal ornamentation - oh no, that would mean - gasp! - that the so-called Neanderthals had "cognizance."]