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Neanderthals used ochre much earlier than previously thought

Scientists have uncovered evidences that show Neanderthals were using red paint up to 250,000 years ago - thousands of years earlier than previously thought. 

Traces of the paint, made from ochre, were dug up in the Netherlands and dated to a quarter of a million years ago. 

Scientists are upto finding out what the sub-species of humans did with it back then although it is often considered a sign of symbolic behaviour such as artwork and body painting. 

They examined small quantities of red material on well-preserved flint and bones dug up from an archaeological site in Maastricht in the Netherlands, according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

State-of-the-art X-ray techniques revealed the presence of an iron oxide called hematite, a metal that was not part of the sedimentary environment and probably entered as drops from an ochre-rich liquid. 

They wouldn't comment on its specific usage in the deep past by a species often depicted as club-wielding brutes. But they believe it was brought to the site from dozens of miles away. 

Dr Wil Roebroeks, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, and colleagues said the use of iron oxides by late Neanderthals is well documented in Europe especially between 60 and 40 years ago. 

"Such finds often have been interpreted as pigments even though their exact function is largely unknown," the Daily Mail quoted them as saying. 

"Here we report significantly older iron oxide finds that constitute the earliest documented use of red ochre by Neanderthals. This is a non-local material that was imported to the site, possibly over dozens of kilometres," they stated. 

The researchers said their discovery pushes the use of red ochre by early Neanderthals 'back in time significantly' to at least 200 to 250,000 years ago - the same time range as the early ochre use in the African record.  

Source: ANI News [January 24, 2012]

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