Radiocarbon dating of ancient rock paintings

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The finding also demonstrates that ancient humans somehow made the creative transition at roughly the same time, in places thousands of miles apart.“It’s essentially happening at the same time at the opposite ends of the world,” said Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia and a co-author of the report, published in the journal Nature.Archaeologists have been discovering cave paintings and ancient sculptures for centuries, but it was only in the mid twentieth century that it became possible to precisely determine their age.Better-known techniques like radiocarbon dating are of limited use in dating cave art.Much of it isn't made with organic materials, but is simply carved into the rock, or painted with non-organic pigments like ochre.Pike has extensive experience using the technique to date ancient bones.He had the idea of using it on Palaeolithic art during an expedition to Cresswell Crags in Derbyshire, the site of rock engravings thought to be Britain's only Palaeolithic cave art.The researchers spent two weeks in Spain last year testing the new method in caves, and have just returned from another fortnight's expedition to sample nine more caves, including the so called 'Sistine Chapel of the Palaeolithic', Altamira cave.

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For one thing, there's no way of telling whether these materials are contemporary with the art or much older - ancient artists could have drawn with charcoal that was already in the cave when they arrived.The process is lengthy and painstaking - researchers must scrape off enough of the calcite crust for an accurate dating, while taking care not to harm the art underneath, or even contaminate the sample with the older limestone behind the art.Black and violet painted horses overlying red figures at Tito Bustillo, Asturias.Before this, the only tool for dating the engravings was stylistic comparison with similar sites on the continent - a far less precise business.It soon became clear that uranium series techniques could be useful at many other cave art sites.

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