Early Human Innovation: Pigments

Human Origins Program, Smithsonian
March 15, 2018
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stones with color flecks
Human Origins Program, Smithsonian

The research team also discovered black and red rocks—manganese and ocher—at the sites, along with evidence that the rocks had been processed for use as coloring material. “We don’t know what the coloring was used on, but coloring is often taken by archeologists as the root of complex symbolic communication,” Potts said. “Just as color is used today in clothing or flags to express identity, these pigments may have helped people communicate membership in alliances and maintain ties with distant groups.” The National Museums of Kenya loaned the materials pictured above to conduct the analyses published in Science.

Photo courtesy Human Origins Program, Smithsonian