Of Pigments and Paint : quantifying ochre and rock art in the Cederberg (Western Cape, South Africa

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation quantifies and compares the mass of the ochre assemblages and the surface area of rock paintings from the same sites based on colour classification from the Later Stone Age assemblages of three rock shelters, De Hangen, Andriesgrond and Diepkloof in the Western Cape, South Africa. This work begins to bridge the gap that exists between the excavated archaeology and the examination of rock paintings which has been primarily focused on the iconography. The colours present in the rock art are quantified using a standardised colour system. A preference is shown for saturated 10R hues, based on the Munsell classification, in the fine line and handprinting rock art traditions, whilst the colonial era paintings may illustrate a more ad hoc approach, an interpretation bolstered by survey analysis. The colours of the ochres from the excavated assemblages do not match the colours seen in the rock paintings, the colours of the ochres being clustered more toward 2.5YR and 5YR Munsell hues. The concept of “ghost ochre” has been proposed in order to describe those ochres, in the colours shown to be preferentially used in the rock art, that have been utilised in their entirety and are accordingly absent from the archaeology. A proposed cause for this is that the primary ochre processing strategy employed by the inhabitants may have been that of pulverisation rather than grinding. Some experimental hearths were conducted to examine possible colour changes in buried ochres, and these samples were analysed by colorimetric means and by X-ray diffraction. Ultimately it has been demonstrated that the relationship between ochre and rock paintings from the same site is more complex than has been previously assumed. The findings in this thesis have implications for future research in rock art studies and analyses of LSA and MSA ochre assemblages.

Includes bibliographical references.