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Dating prehistoric paintings

Dating expert Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom calls it "a very convincing study," adding that "it is just possible that a Neandertal hand was involved," in making the red disk.But he still thinks it most likely that modern humans made the art, because the dates still correspond most closely to the time when was first entering Europe.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.

She says it's possible that some of the uranium in the calcite has been washed out by later water flows, which would increase the thorium/uranium ratio and make the ages seem older than they really are.The French dating team at Chauvet is disdainful of such a conclusion."The dating at Chauvet has been confirmed over time" by numerous studies, says Gilles Tosello, an archaeologist at the University of Toulouse in France who has worked at the site since the late 1990s.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.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.The earliest possible dates for archaeological artifacts associated with modern humans, in Spain, Italy, and France are about 41,600 years ago.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.U-series dating takes advantage of the fact that calcite, the form of calcium carbonate in stalactites and stalagmites, contains trace amounts of radioactive uranium-238, which decays to form atomic elements including radioactive thorium-230.Radiocarbon dating has long been the method of choice, but it is restricted to organic materials such as bone and charcoal.When such materials are lying on a cave floor near art on the cave wall, archaeologists have to make many assumptions before concluding that they are contemporary.


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