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Caveman cosmetics? Scientists say ocher tool kits date back 100,000 years.

Throughout history ocher has been used for art and adornment. Scientists report finding evidence of a 100,000-year-old cosmetics/paint workshop for producing a pigmented compound in a South African cave.

A model has makeup applied backstage prior to the Dior Spring-Summer 2010 Haute Couture fashion collection in Paris in 2010.

Thibault Camus/AP/File

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Cosmetic giants Mabelline-Garnier or Helene Curtis standing on the shoulders of Stone Age artisans?

An international team of scientists says it has uncovered evidence of an 100,000-year-old workshop and two tool kits for turning ocher into a kind of paint. Cultures throughout human history have used ocher as a pigment for art and adornment.

The find "documents deliberate planning, production, and curation of a pigmented compound, and the first recorded use of containers," writes Christopher Henshilwood, an anthropologist at the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, in an email exchange. The find indicates that humans at this period "had an elementary knowledge of chemistry and the ability for long-term planning."

The earliest evidence for ocher production dates back roughly 160,000 years, according to research published in 2007. The evidence came from caves in cliffs near South Africa's Mossel Bay, suggesting that humans had developed a sense of symbolism far earlier than previous studies had suggested.

Within the next 40,000 years the use of ocher would become widespread in the region, researchers say.

In 2009, another team, led by Dr. Henshilwood, unveiled the earliest direct evidence of ocher's symbolic use in artifacts dating back at east 75,000 years. In that case, designs were etched into objects made of ocher. The evidence was found in Blombos Cave, an opening in a seaside bluff roughly 180 miles east of Cape Town.


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