Were the Neanderthals Cave Painters?
Popular Archaeology, June 2012
Using a Uranium-series dating technique, a team of scientists have dated tiny samples taken from 50 prehistoric paintings in 11 caves in Northern Spain. The results of the study have pushed back the antiquity of at least some of the paintings by thousands of years, raising questions about the prehistoric humans who produced them.
Led by Dr. Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol, UK, the team of researchers from the UK, Spain and Portugal tested samples taken from the calcite of stalactites that had accumulated over the paintings over tens of thousands of years, using the Uranium-Thorium technique, which measures the radioactive decay of uranium that had occured in the stalactite over time. Unlike the traditionally-used radiocarbon dating, which has proven to be problematic and inconsistent, the uranium-series dating is considered to be highly reliable. Said Pike: “Engravings and, in many cases, paintings lack organic pigments or binders suitable for radiocarbon dating. Where suitable material – such as charcoal pigments – does exist, only small samples can be dated to minimize damage to the art. This magnifies the effects of contamination and produces less accurate results.” This study thus documents the first time the paintings have been dated using a reliable method.
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