Volume 57, Number 3
(Link) open access
Earth pigments figure prominently in debates about signal evolution among later Homo. Most archaeologists consider such behavior to postdate ~300 Ka. To evaluate claims for Fauresmith and Acheulean pigments in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, extending back 1.1 Ma (Beaumont and Bednarik 2013), we reexamined collections from Kathu Pan 1, Wonderwerk Cave, and Canteen Kopje. We report and describe materials where we are confident as to a pigment status. We found (i) compelling evidence of absence in all but the youngest Acheulean contexts, (ii) definite but irregular use in Fauresmith contexts from at least 500 Ka, (iii) widespread and regular use within this limited area by ~300 Ka, coeval with circumstantial evidence for pigment transport over considerable distances and use in fire-lit environments. These findings are used to evaluate predictions derived from two competing hypotheses addressing the evolution of group ritual, the “female cosmetic coalitions” hypothesis (Power 2009) and the “cheap-but-honest signals” hypothesis (Kuhn 2014), finding that the former accounts for a greater range of the observations. The findings underscore the wider behavioral significance of the Fauresmith as an industry transitional between the Acheulean and the Middle Stone Age.