A team of scientists discovered traces of a paint used by prehistoric human ancestors to draw on their bodies and stone or wood objects. After analyzing the chemical composition of the ancient paint, the researchers were surprised to find that it contained traces of milk.
The discovery was made by a collaborative team of scientists from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Colorado Boulder. They found that the 49,000-year-old paint had a base made of ochre and milk and was used by ancient African people to decorate their bodies and to draw on wooden or stone slabs.
According to the researchers, the ancient paint was found in the Sibudu Cave, close to a stone flake. The cave is located in the northern KwaZulu-Natal, Africa. Experts believe the area was occupied by modern humans during the Middle Stone Age, between 77,000 to 38,000 years ago.
The scientists wrote about the prehistoric ochre and milk paint in the journal PLOS One.
Paola Villa, a curator at the University of Colorado’s Museum of Natural History and one of the lead authors of the study, said that about 250,000 years ago, ancient humans from Africa and Europe were using ochre for painting. Villa said that until now, they didn’t know they mixed ochre with milk for making the paint.
According to the researchers, they still don’t know the exact purpose for the paint, but the recent discovery proves that ancient humans mixed ochre with milk long before domestic cattle were introduced in South Africa.
The traces of ancient paint were found preserved on the flake of stone, and experts believe the stone had been used to stir the paint, in order for the ochre and the milk to mix together. Another theory is that the piece of stone had been used as an instrument for applying the paint on the body or on objects.
Using chemical and elemental analysis, the researchers were able to detect the presence of casein, a protein found in milk.
They believe that ancient African people killed buffalos, impalas, elands and kudus that were lactating, and milk was probably very important to them. Villa said that cattle were not domesticated in South Africa back then. They started domesticating them approximately 2,000 years ago.
Ochre was used for different purposes by ancient humans who lived during the Middle Stone Age. They often used is as body paint to decorate their bodies and to paint stone objects.
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