Radiocarbon dating of ancient rock paintings

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On their recent trip to Spain the team encountered some exceptional opportunities for dating, in the form of paint layers within stalagmites.These allow the age of the painting to be bracketed by both maximum and minimum dates.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.Furthermore, cave paintings are delicate and precious - scraping bits off them to send to the dating lab is rarely welcome.And there's a serious risk of contaminating the samples being analysed with more modern or older carbon.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.

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On the wall of a cave deep in the jungles of Borneo, there is an image of a thick-bodied, spindly-legged animal, drawn in reddish ocher. But it also is more than 40,000 years old, scientists reported on Wednesday, making this the oldest figurative art in the world.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.Researchers have found older man-made images, but these were abstract patterns, such as crisscrossing lines.The switch to figurative art represented an important shift in how people thought about the world around them — and possibly themselves.

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