Examination of a selection of shell and bone from archaeological assemblages excavated at Niah Cave and Gua Sireh, both of which are located in Sarawak, Borneo, has revealed the deliberate application of coloured material to one or more surfaces. Small fragments of the surface colourant were analysed using a variety of techniques, including microscopy, energy dispersive microwave analysis and infra-red spectrophotometry. These procedures established that, although red in colour, the applied coating in each instance was not red iron oxide. It is suggested that, based on the chemical components present, this coating was a tree resin or a similar organic substance. The paper further reports the presence of enhanced chloride values in the colourant recovered from the ancient human cranial fragment tested. It is suggested that elevated concentrations of this trace element may indicate that the site, the human remains or ingredients within the colourant were once in close proximity to the sea.
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