Dating prehistoric paintings Net camprivate

"There is an emerging picture of the earliest cave art being largely nonfigurative," says Pettitt, who has long challenged the Chauvet dates as too old.

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

In a few cases, the team also dated calcite underneath artworks, thus creating a "sandwich" that generated maximum and minimum dates.

Questions have even arisen in cases like the superb renditions of horses, rhinos, and other animals in France's Grotte Chauvet, the cave where researchers have directly radiocarbon dated artworks executed in charcoal to 37,000 years ago.

Other archaeologists have argued that artists could have entered Chauvet much later and picked up charcoal that had been lying around for thousands of years.

By measuring the ratio of thorium-230 and uranium-238, daters can estimate how long ago the calcite was laid down.

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.

And a few researchers say that the study argues for the slow development of artistic skill over tens of thousands of years.

Figuring out the age of cave art is fraught with difficulties.

The dating of the Spanish caves leaves many gaps in a supposed sequence of increasing stylistic complexity, say archaeologists Iain Davidson of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, and Nicolas Teyssandier of the University of Toulouse.

Higham says that "more work is required," but adds that the U-series technique may now allow testing of such hypotheses.

Now in a paper published online today in , dating expert Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and archaeologist Paul Pettitt of the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, together with colleagues in Spain, applied a technique called uranium-series (U-series) dating to artworks from 11 Spanish caves.

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