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Welcome to African Archaeology!

The Journal of African Archaeology is an international peer-reviewed periodical appearing half-yearly since 2003. It publishes original papers addressing recent research and developments in African archaeology and related disciplines. The journal's main purpose is to provide scholars and students with a new pan-African forum for discussing relevant topics on the cultural dynamics of past African societies.

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Vol. 9 (2) 2011

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R.F. Rifkin

Assessing the Efficacy of Red Ochre as a Prehistoric Hide Tanning Ingredient

Journal of African Archaeology, Volume 9 (2), 2011, pages 131-158, DOI 10.3213/2191-5784-10199

Abstract
Over the past four decades, several functional hypotheses have been proposed for archaeological ochre. Ochre has been shown to have antiseptic properties and to inhibit the bacterial production of collagenase. These qualities are repeatedly cited to support the hypothesis that red ochre was used to preserve or 'tan' animal hides in prehistory. If clothing made from hides was worn by Homo sapiens in Africa, then hide tanning could have formed a part of the trend towards increasingly modern technological and social advances during the Middle to Late Pleistocene. This paper presents the results of an experimental study exploring the efficacy of ochre as a treatment for making unprocessed animal hide resistant to putrification and desiccation. This study shows that certain types of ochre do preserve animal hide. The implications of this technological advance for the emergence of human behavioural modernity in Africa are discussed.

Résumé
Au cours des quatre dernières décennies, plusieurs hypothèses ont été proposées pour expliquer la fonction des ocres archéologiques. L'ocre a des propriétés antiseptiques et permet d'inhiber la production de la collagénase bactérienne. Ces propriétés ont été citées à plusieurs reprises pour soutenir l'hypothèse que l'ocre rouge a été utilisée, tout le long de la préhistoire, pour préserver ou tanner les peaux d'animaux. Si des vêtements en peau ont été inventés en Afrique par les Hommes modernes cette innovation a pu faire partie du bagage de comportements modernes créés sur ce continent. Cet article présente les résultats d'une étude expérimentale ayant l'objectif de vérifier l'efficacité de l'ocre pour rendre résistante à la putréfaction et la dessiccation des peaux d'animaux. Nous résultats indiquent que certains types d'ocre possèdent la capacité de préserver les peaux. Les implications de ces résultats pour l'émergence des comportements modernes sont discutées.




Keywords: experimental archaeology, hide tanning, Middle Stone Age, modern human behaviour, MSA, red ochre


© Copyright: Africa Magna Verlag 2011
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