Raw materials exploitation in Prehistory:

Sourcing, processing and distribution

10-12 March 2016, Faro - Portugal



Jean-Victor PRADEAU - CEPAM/UMR 7264 CNRS, Université Nice-Sophia Antipolis, FRANCE 

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Laure DAYET - Institut Français d’Afrique du Sud, Johannesburg, SOUTH AFRICA (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Hélène SALOMON - F.R.S.-FNRS, Service de Préhistoire University of Liège, Liège, FRANCE (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


Raw material provenance and selection are key features for the understanding of the social structure of prehistoric societies. The reconstruction of raw material supply strategies brings information on the socio-economical framework, mobility patterns, as well as technical, symbolical and cultural orientations at the origin of the processing sequences. Despite their informative potential to address these issues, colouring materials (iron and manganese oxides, cinnabar, copper salts, etc.) have received scant attention in comparison with geomaterials used in tool, bead or pottery manufacture such as obsidian, flint, ceramic materials or igneous rocks. Because they are commonly regarded as medium for ornamentation, non verbal communication and symbolic representations, colouring raw materials may not consistently obey to the same economic systems than stone tool or ceramic raw materials. Provenance researches of colouring materials and paintings are then crucial to enlarge our understanding of the social organization of prehistoric hunter-gatherer and agro-pastoral societies.

Since the 2000’s, trace element (PIXE, XRF, INAA, ICP-MS) petrographic and mineralogical (X-ray-diffraction, Raman spectrometry) studies have widely contributed to collect data on colouring geomaterials’ sources. A number of geological reference collections have been studied and there is no doubt that significant differences between sources from the same region can be identified when proper methods are used. The field is now open to archaeological applications and comprehensive studies of procurement strategies within a region or a cultural tradition. Consistent procurement patterns have already been identified at some Middle, Upper Paleolithic and Neolithic sites, from exclusive local supply to significant long distance supply, including more complex situations where both local and non local materials were collected. Whether these economical choices are determined by the geological background, the status of the colouring materials, the function of the sites, the social organization of the groups, or by pure social conventions as observed in culturally determined traditions remains to be clarified.

Two main topics will liven up this session: (i) fruitful contributions on different methodological improvements proposed to outpace the context dependent situation in provenance researches applied to colouring materials and (ii) diachronic revue of their procurement strategies through the lens of cultural contexts and site function status.


Keywords: pigments, colouring materials, procurement strategy, techno-economic study, geochemistry, mineralogy, petrology.