The Many Meanings of Red: Ochre Use through Time in Southern Africa

Author(s): Tammy Hodgskiss

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Culturing the Body: Prehistoric Perspectives on Identity and Sociality" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

From c.100 000 years ago, ochre pieces were habitually collected and used at Middle Stone Age sites in southern Africa. This earthy iron-rich rock has been continually used since then and still has many applications today, such as pigment, sunscreen or body paint for ritual purposes. Although a range of colors were collected in the past, bright red, and often sparkly, varieties were preferentially used to create colored powder, paint and also on which to engrave designs. But why red? The Middle Stone Age is a period of significant behavioral developments for Homo sapiens, with important cognitive inferences. The appearance of items such as perforated shells, engraved ostrich eggshell and the use of red pigments are perceived as potential symbolic, social and cultural identity indicators. Did red symbolize blood, power or love, as it does today? When considered within the context of the significant technological advances in the Middle Stone Age, social dynamics and interactions of these early modern humans may be explored. By looking at the use and applications of ochre through time in southern Africa, links are drawn between ochre use strategies, color symbolism and social identity indicators.

Cite this Record

The Many Meanings of Red: Ochre Use through Time in Southern Africa. Tammy Hodgskiss. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 450835)


Spatial Coverage

min long: 9.58; min lat: -35.461 ; max long: 57.041; max lat: 4.565 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 24589