World’s Oldest Art Studio Found in Ethiopian Cave
For 4,500 years, ancient humans kept on coming back to one cave in Ethiopia. It’s a roomy
enclosure at the base of a limestone cliff, but its natural qualities were only one part of the
story. People used the cave to store reddish stones rich in iron oxide, and then they turned
those stones into different colors. A new study suggests that the cave, called Porc­Epic, was the
world’s first art studio.
Near the city of Dire Dawa, Porc­Epic has long been a focus of study because of the variety of
rocks characterized by a red or yellow color or streak, known as ochre, found there. Over 4,000
pieces of ochre have been discovered at Porc­Epic and currently reside in a museum in Addis
Abba. There, they were studied by Daniela Eugenia Rosso of the University of Barcelona in Spain
and Francesco d’Errico and Alain Queffelec of the University of Bordeaux in France.
Pieces of ochre found in Porc­Epic.
Daniela Eugenia Rosso, Francesco d’Errico, Alain Queffelec
Ochre had any number of uses in the ancient world, including hide tanning, adhesive production,
insect repellent, antiseptic treatments, and protecting oneself from the sun. Ochre pieces are
“one of the most controversial features found” at any ancient site, Rosso and her colleaguessay, because it can be hard to determine if its use was utilitarian, symbolic, or a combination of
the two.

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However, there were so many ochre pieces at the site that the three feel they can safely
conclude that Porc­Epic was “largely shared by all community members and consistently
transmitted through time.” The cave was passed down from generation to generation, with
processing techniques changing over time and reflecting new cultural situations. “Evidence for
the grinding of ochre to produce small quantities of powder throughout” the cave, the
researchers say, shows definitively that at least some of the ochre was used for “symbolic
activities” throughout the generations.
“Of course,” the scientists say, “this conclusion does not imply that all ochre powder produced
at the site was used for symbolic activities.” But finding, for example, a “round pebble with half
its surface covered with ochre and no use­wear” suggests that the ochre pieces were being used
for paint, with likely possibilities including body paint and official stamps.
Source: PLOS vis Ars