Copper-based pigments in the Palaeolithic? Identifying colour traces and revisiting the function of a Final Palaeolithic sandstone artefact from Mülheim-Dietesheim (Central Germany)

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Ongoing archaeometric investigations into a sandstone object from the Final Palaeolithic open-air site of Mülheim-Dietesheim[1] have initially identified it as a possible lamp. Excavations from 1976 on the southern bank of the Main River (east of Frankfurt) yielded an assemblage of lithics belonging to the Arch-Backed Point group, stratigraphically positioned under trace tephra from the~13 ka BP Laacher See eruption. Re-investigations of the assemblage have identified both charcoal, ochre as well as a possible lamp. The rough oval bowl-shaped piece of sandstone is reminiscent of Late Magdalenian lamps [2] and preserves a crustal featureconsistent with burning. Significantly, further examination of the lamp identified uncharacteristic blue spots across the object, with a concentration isolated in a worn/smoothed area of the upper rim. A comprehensive program of archaeometric analyses aims tocharacterise and identify the blue spots as well as the stone itself, with a view to help identify more precisely the function of the object. Petrographic analyses are underway to compare the object with lithic raw materials available in the locality, such as thesilicified sandstone sources available in the nearby sedimentary rocks from the Taunus (Rhenish Massif). In-situ micro-X-ray fluorescence (µ-XRF) analyses of the blue inclusions confirm them to be copper-based. Further analyses in the form of micro-X-ray diffraction (µ-XRD), fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) are being undertaken to further characterise the chemical composition and crystalline structure of the blue material with a view toconfirming its mineral identification. Lead isotope analyses of the blue material, almost certainly a copper oxide pigment, may provide clues to the provenance of the mineral when compared to existing databases. The research may support a revisedinterpretation of the artefact, possibly a lamp with signs of a secondary function for pigment processing. Pigment processing at the site may be further supported by the presence of charcoal and ochre as well as the residue analysis of the apparent burnt crust,which may have served as binder. Whilst the use of red pigment (mostly ochre) and quartzite stone grinders are well attested from the Middle Stone Age onwards [e.g., 3], the use of natural blue pigments (i.e., azurite) only really appear from the Neolithic onwards [4], with few rare examples from the Palaeolithic [5]. The implications of such findings here, therefore, may be sign
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Publication statusUnpublished - 2023
EventEuropean Society for Human Evolution conference - Aarhus, Denmark
Duration: 21 Sept 202323 Sept 2023


ConferenceEuropean Society for Human Evolution conference


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