Red ochre?

Yes, red ochre, the pigment of choice for cave men and women everywhere.  I have seen several stories about a find in the Blombos Cave of South Africa of a rock segment showing lines made by a red ochre crayon dating back to 75,000 years ago. Perhaps the most interesting thing here was the supported speculation that these people had used a crayon, a stick of red ochre that they could easily carry about with them, you know, maybe to draw a little graffiti on cave walls, tag a prominent rock, etc.  I have read some about red ochre paint used by prehistoric peoples but paint must be used pretty quickly before it dries. Crayons, don’t we all know, are more convenient for the wanderer in us.


Images made by blowing red ochre paint through a tube in French cave 25,000 years ago.

And wander early humans did.  Red ochre was used in Australia for burials 40,000 years ago.  A prehistoric body discovered some years ago in a cave on the Gower Peninsula (a really beautiful place to wander) in Wales was covered in red ochre.  The body was called the Red Lady of Paviland (where the cave is located on the coast) and initially thought to be Roman but later scientific analysis showed the remains to be a young male from 33,000 years ago.  Oh, and the new world?  Yes, red ochre paintings have been found high in the Andes dated from 12,000 years ago. Ancient peoples, e.g., Egyptian, used red and yellow ochre, and many peoples ancient and more recent decorated their bodies and/or hair with red ochre.

Made with the ubiquitous red clay, this ochre has served artists very well for at least 75,000 years. Strange and wonderful to consider that red ochre captured our ancestors’ imagination and was used to express some inchoate experience about their lives.  Another gift from Gaia.  Travel on.