People painted for over 4,000 years in Porc-Epic.
For 4,500 years, ancient humans kept on coming back to one cave in Ethiopia. It’s a roomy enclosure at the base of a limestone cliff, but its natural qualities were only one part of the story.
People used the cave to store reddish stones rich in iron oxide, and then they turned those stones into different colors. A new study suggests that the cave, called Porc-Epic, was the world’s first art studio.
Near the city of Dire Dawa, Porc-Epic has long been a focus of study because of the variety of rocks characterized by a red or yellow color or streak, known as ochre, found there.
Over 4,000 pieces of ochre have been discovered at Porc-Epic and currently reside in a museum in Addis Abba. There, they were studied by Daniela Eugenia Rosso of the University of Barcelona in Spain and Francesco d’Errico and Alain Queffelec of the University of Bordeaux in France.
Ochre had any number of uses in the ancient world, including hide tanning, adhesive production, insect repellent, antiseptic treatments, and protecting oneself from the sun. Ochre pieces are “one of the most controversial features found” at any ancient site, Rosso and her colleagues say, because it can be hard to determine if its use was utilitarian, symbolic, or a combination of the two.