Postgraduate students research a broad range of topics across the School disciplines.
Ochre pigments and symbolic artefacts in the Swabian Jura: A case study of the relationships between hominins, ochre materials, and early symbolic expression in the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic of Europe.
One of the most explored questions in archaeology is when did hominins start to exhibit our modern-day patterns of cultural and social behaviours? The pursuit of this topic has lead inquiry into the ways that hominins interacted with materials and the methods of utilising them in functional and symbolic ways. It is through this material record of artefacts that researchers explore questions related to modernity, such as when forms of complex language developed, when cognition began to replicate our modern state, and when did humans begin embodying symbolic meaning into materials that they used. One such material that is often used as proxy for measuring these concepts is a mineral pigment called red ochre, which is arguably one of the oldest pieces of evidence that is believed to reflect symbolic behaviours in hominin ancestors. The manipulation of this single material type has been used for theoretical inquiry into the emergence of language, advanced cultural cognition, trade and social networks, and aspects of artistic and symbolic behaviours. Stemming from these larger research questions, the proposed research will explore the entanglements of hominins and the ways in which they interacted with red ochre in the Swabia Jura region of Southern Germany during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic.
On a larger scale, analyses of the chemical composition of ochre materials and identifying the way in which ancient humans interacted with ocherous materials will explore questions related to procurement strategies, regional human interactions in the landscape, and the materiality of ochre modification. It will address the role that ochre may have played in early forms of cultural expression during the Upper Palaeolithic, and will investigate the possibility of intentional ochre manipulation during the Middle Palaeolithic in Central Europe. Exploring these hypotheses will expand our knowledge on the material culture and the symbolic and behavioural patterns of early modern humans and hominins for this unique area in Europe.
This project is part of a dual-enrollment program with the Universität Tübingen in Tübingen, Germany.