Human Signalling Ecology: A new model for understanding MSA ochre use

James McGrath will present the Department of Archaeology seminar with a talk entitled, "Human Signalling Ecology: A new model for understanding MSA ochre use". 

Abstract: Mineral pigments derived from archaeological ochres have long been considered a proxy for symbolic behaviors. To date, the bulk of research on Late Pleistocene ochres has focused on the cognitive implications of human symbolling, the association of these objects with concepts of Behavioral Modernity, and the possible non-symbolic functions of ochre powders. The capacity for mineral pigments and other symbolic technologies to communicate social information, such as group affiliation or status, and the resultant demographic implications of their use have received relatively limited attention, however. The study presented here examines the utility of a Human Behavioral Ecology territoriality model grounded in Costly Signalling and Economic Defensibility Theory for understanding the context of symbolic behaviors during the African Middle Stone Age. A pilot study of the ochre assemblage from Pinnacle Point 5-6 (PP5-6) near Mossel Bay, South Africa, is reviewed with this model. Results from PP5-6 suggest that there is an intensified production of mineral pigments during periods when this model predicts increased territorial behavior, small territorial ranges, and greater population packing. Inversely, this study finds less evidence for mineral pigment production during periods expected to have lower population density, larger ranges, and less territorial behaviors. This presentation also includes the future directions of this research based on the pilot study results.

Bio: James McGrath is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Iowa. He graduated with his BA in Anthropology from Arizona State University in 2013 and MA in Anthropology at the University of Iowa in 2016. James previously participated in the excavations at Pinnacle Point 5-6 and Vleesbaai near Mossel Bay, South Africa, excavations at several archaeological sites in the American Southwest and Midwest, and museum analyses and surveys in western Namibia. His research focuses on the use of symbolic technologies in relation to the social and ecological context in which they occur and archaeological ochre analysis methodologies.


Monday, August 6, 2018 - 13:00

Teaching Studio, Room 3.10, Department of Archaeology, Beattie Building, Upper Campus, UCT