PXRF Analysis of a Yellow Ochre Quarry and Rock Art Motifs in the Central Pilbara

Lynley A. Wallis, Jillian Huntley, Michael Marsh, Alan Watchman, Allan Ewen, Annunziata Strano

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)


    The significance of ochre in Indigenous Australia is well documented. Several large, well-known quarries containing ochre that is highly sought after have been described in the archaeological literature, however less attention has been paid to smaller, regionally and locally significant quarries. In this paper a small yellow ochre quarry (VSTA_20140611_1) from the Central Pilbara, where evidence of paint preparation is preserved in the form of residues in two in situ grinding hollows, is described in order to address this oversight. Portable XRF (pXRF) analysis of the pigment in the quarry itself and the paint in the hollows was undertaken to understand the chemistry of the pigmentaceous minerals, to explore the taphonomy of the ochre seam, and to gauge variation within the source. Chemistry indicates that the VSTA_20140611_1 quarry is composed of an iron mineral (likely a hydroxide such as goethite), with Fe abundances consistently between 10.7 and 30%. Typical of the regional geology, the yellow pigment is consistently siliceous, with an Si abundance of between 5.8 and 20.4%. As there are no painted motifs in the rockshelter containing the VSTA_20140611_1 quarry, nor on the suitable BIF surfaces nearby, it is considered highly likely that the surviving paint produced on-site was used for either body decoration or the adornment of artefacts, rather than for rock art production. Nevertheless, the similarity in chemical composition between the VSTA_20140611_1 pigments and that of motifs painted in sites a few kilometres away suggests that, in addition to immediate processing and use at the site, ochre from this quarry may have been transported to rockshelters in the vicinity and used for rock art production.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)134-155
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


    • Rock Art
    • Indigenous Australians
    • Ochre
    • Quarrying
    • Pilbara


    Dive into the research topics of 'PXRF Analysis of a Yellow Ochre Quarry and Rock Art Motifs in the Central Pilbara'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this