Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Red Ocher / Ochre Thoughts from Ohio!

The discussion concerning Ocher / Ochre usage in the Northeast has become quote interesting, as the last three posts on the topic show:
Most recently, I received this information today from Dr. Mark Seeman at Kent State University:

"Red ochre is an interesting material. As you may know it can be made from grinding up iron-rich hematite or limonite (hema= blood). It has two primary uses among Native peoples that I am aware of.

First, it is a fine abrasive similar to jewelers' rouge. As such it can be used to polish a variety of substances such as bone, ivory and even flint. Use of red ochre as an abrasive dates from Paleoindian times ca. 11,000 BP.

The second use is as a pigment. It can be either sprinkled on a surface or mixed with fat or tallow to make a red paint. Red is an important color for many Native peoples, signifying life (blood), but also in some cases is associated with warfare and other concepts. Sometimes it is used in symbolic complementarily to white (white paint can be made from galena, a lead sulfide ore). With the first European trade, vermillion, a red, lipstick-like product, was in high demand and it generally replaced red ochre as a red pigment after 1600 AD.

Red ochre is often found on human remains or as portions of grave lots. Sometimes it appears that the pigment was on clothing or flesh, but in other cases it appears that the human remains had been defleshed (secondary burials often in ossuaries) and the ochre sprinkled or painted directly on the bones. Sometimes burial offerings (e.g. flint bifaces) are also coated with red ochre.

Although it is found earlier in burial association, it is particularly evident in the Late Archaic and Early Woodland periods in the Midwest, beginning ca, 1300 BC."

Dr. Mark F. Seeman
Office: 215 Lowry
Phone: 330-672-2705

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