Seeing red: an analysis of archeological hematite in east central Missouri


Ceramic and chert artifacts constitute the main evidence for understanding trade and cultural dynamics in prehistoric eastern Missouri. But despite its relative ubiquity, hematite, most often characterized as ochre, has rarely been considered for such research. To partially fill the void, neutron activation analysis (NAA) was utilized to analyze collections of hematite artifacts excavated from the Truman Road Site (n = 31) and other nearby sites (n = 7) in the lower Missouri River valley. Our results indicate no significant temporal or spatial patterning of its usage or acquisition. Similarly, low correlation exists between the chemistry and artifact type. Furthermore, the assemblage is compositionally distinct from previously analyzed source samples from elsewhere in Missouri. Therefore, the origin of the artifacts remains undetermined. Although they could not be linked to a single acquisition locale, the results suggest at least two separate, although possibly related, sources. Overall, this study serves to increase our understanding of the characterization and diversity of hematite and its usage in prehistoric Missouri.

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We wish to thank the MURR Archaeometry Lab staff for the preparation, irradiation, and data collection for these samples, and Brandi MacDonald for her assistance.

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This work was supported in part under a grant from the National Science Foundation (# 1415403) to the Archaeometry Laboratory at MURR and funds from the University of Missouri- St. Louis.

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Correspondence to Daniel E. Pierce.

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Pierce, D.E., Wright, P.J. & Popelka-Filcoff, R.S. Seeing red: an analysis of archeological hematite in east central Missouri. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 23 (2020).

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  • Hematite
  • Ochre
  • NAA
  • Provenance
  • Prestige goods
  • Long-distance exchange
  • Prehistoric America