Ethno-Archaeometry of Ochre Mineral Pigment Extraction, Transport, and Use in the Kenya Rift Valley


Ochre occurs in African archaeological sites from the later Middle Pleistocene to the ethnographic present. Ochre is used worldwide for symbolic and functional purposes, and is often considered to be evidence for symbolic behavior by cognitively modern Paleolithic humans. Geochemical provenience analysis, complemented by ethnographic studies of ochre source exploitation, transport, and use, can elucidate whether culturally mediated source exploitation differs significantly from a least-cost energetics (closest source) model of source use. In 2015–2017 we sampled 53 ochre deposits in the Kenya Rift Valley, guided by Maasai, Samburu, and Dorobo informants. The strontium isotope ratio (87/86 Sr) and elemental composition of these sources were characterized using Electron Probe MicroAnalysis and Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry. Our results show that the Provenience Postulate is upheld at the regional scale by 87/86 Sr ratios and at the local scale by elemental composition, facilitating sourcing of cultural ochre. Analysis of ochre recovered from the Elmenteitan Neolithic cremation burial site of Njoro River Cave shows that the pigment is derived from two sources 110 and 150 km to the south, despite the availability of high quality ochre at deposits 20-35 km away and nearby the main sources of obsidian artifacts found at this site.

Cite this Record

Ethno-Archaeometry of Ochre Mineral Pigment Extraction, Transport, and Use in the Kenya Rift Valley. Andrew Zipkin, Stanley Ambrose, Gideon Bartov, Alexander Taylor, Mercy Gakii. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 444027)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: 24.082; min lat: -26.746 ; max long: 56.777; max lat: 17.309 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 22177