Dating prehistoric paintings

U-series dating has been around since the 1950s and is often used to date caves, corals, and other proxies for climate and sea level changes.But it has been used only a few times before on cave art, including by Pike and Pettit, who used it to date the United Kingdom's oldest known cave art at Cresswell Crags in England.New chemical techniques were developed to remove contaminants from small samples of paint.These could then be dated using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating.

(Zilhao discounts recent dates from Germany of up to 43,000 years ago.) Other researchers praise the study, but are cautious about concluding that Neandertals were cave artists.

Forty-thousand years ago, Neandertals were still living in Spain, while modern humans were only just entering Europe.

Thus co-author Joao Zilhao, an archaeologist at the University of Barcelona in Spain who has long championed Neandertals' symbolic and creative capacities, contends that there is "a strong probability of Neandertal authorship." He points out that Neandertals made jewelry and used ochre, and that the oldest known modern human fossils in Europe, from the site of Pestera cu Oase in Romania, are only about 39,000 years old.

Using a blade or an electric drill, the team took 50 small samples from calcite that directly overlay either paintings or engravings in 11 caves in northwest Spain.

Because the calcite overlays the paintings, it must be younger than the art, and so yields minimum ages.

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This finding has profound implications for our understanding of hunter-gatherer religion in southern Africa." Research was conducted in the Thune Dam in Botswana, the Metolong Dam area in the Phuthiatsana Valley of Lesotho, and the Drakensberg Escarpment of the Eastern Cape in the 'Nomansland' region of South Africa.

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