the oldest profession in the world?

Rech ochre crayon

Could my trade -swapping something useful to me (money!) for something useful to you (colour!)- be the oldest one human beings have ever exercised? Based on a National Geographic article: The first artists, how creativity made us human, that is totally the case…

One day in 2000, Christopher Henshilwood and his team dug out in Blombos Cave, SA, a small block of engraved red ochre which some human being had 75000 years ago (give or take) etched with a pattern of overlapping, parallel, triangular markings. Why? To mark a belonging or a provenance? Let’s not go as far as saying that it was the first brand’s logo ever (although…) but it feels like a signature of some kind for sure. Over the next decade, similar ‘raw pastel sticks’ were found in other caves along that coastline of South Africa north of Cape Town, as well as evidence of the cave’s inhabitants having methodically ground the ochre into a fine powder and of mixing this pigment with other ingredients to make a paste even as early as 100 000 years ago (Homo Sapiens emerged around then too but the Grotte Chauvet’s delightful paintings would have to wait another 65 000 years however). Abalone shells were used as containers, the oldest ones ever found. What they did with the ‘paint’ is a mystery, nothing remains. One could venture and hope that they had fun painting their hair, the bodies of their lovers, themselves to frighten and educate the young ones but who knows what happened during these centuries upon centuries…

What we do know though is that no other animal than Sapiens engages in trade. Research, as well as similar finds elsewhere, also shows that the first trading items (apart from information and gossip that is) were shells, beads and… pigments! I’m happy to share the claim of the oldest profession with the shell shop and the bead shop but am still convinced that what happened thereafter to pigments speaks of a human adventure quite incomparable to the story of beads (and of course shells haven’t much of an evolution to tell at all).

So if you would like to know more about pigments, especially those used in your paint, jump to my pages about them by clicking here.

Enjoy and… please share if you liked them!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Alison Berry says:

    Thank you Sabine, how lucky we are to have you in our lives, love your blog and so excited to follow your journey – Ali xx

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