Andrew Michael Zipkin
Grant TypePost PhD Research Grant
Institutional AffiliationIllinois, Urbana, U. of
Grant numberGr. 9305
Approve DateApril 19, 2016
Project TitleZipkin, Dr. Andrew Michael, U. of Illinois, Urbana, IL - To aid research on 'The Ethno-Archaeometry of Ochre Source Exploitation Practices in Kenya'
Preliminary abstract: Communicating information and identity with symbols is an essential attribute of our species. Humans have used ochre pigments for symbolic expression for hundreds of thousands of years. However, rock art and other practices involving iron-based pigments are understudied in the modern era. Research on this rapidly vanishing form of cultural heritage is thus critical to understanding the origins of symbolism. This project bridges archaeology, ethnography, and geochemistry to investigate ochre use in Stone Age and present day Kenya. In 2012 and 2015, Maasai and Samburu individuals guided us to many of the geological sources of ochre pigments they traditionally use, and to some rock art sites where they identified images painted with ochre from specified sources. We obtained information about their criteria for pigment selection, techniques of pigment preparation, and symbolism associated with ochre sources, rock art, and pigmented artifacts. The project will expand upon an ongoing study of isotopic fingerprinting (iron, strontium, and lead) of these sources and samples from Middle Stone Age to Neolithic sites. This research will complement isotopic characterization with a proven method, trace element fingerprinting, for provenance analysis. Our approach will facilitate verification of the sources of rock art pigments identified from ethnographic information. Enhanced understanding of modern ochre use will shed new light on the evolution of human symbolism from the Stone Age to present day. This project will also refine minimally destructive analytical methods for mineral pigments and build a more widely usable source composition database. Improving methods to identify sources of ochre pigments has significant implications for identifying looted heritage items and forgeries, and for stemming the illicit antiquities trade that endangers tangible cultural heritage, and fuels conflict around the world.