Radiocarbon dating of ancient rock paintings

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There have been surprises, though - in several caves whose art had previously been assumed to date from the same period, the new dating technique has revealed that the paintings were done in several phases, possibly over 15,000 years (25,000 years ago to just 10,000.) The dating method involves a technique called uranium series dating.

It works on any carbonate substance, such as coral or limestone, and involves measuring the balance between a uranium isotope and the form of thorium that it decays into.

Pike has extensive experience using the technique to date ancient bones.

Much of it isn't made with organic materials, but is simply carved into the rock, or painted with non-organic pigments like ochre.Instead of trying to date the paintings and engravings themselves, they are analysing carbonate deposits like stalactites and stalagmites that have formed over them.This means they don't risk harming irreplaceable art, and provides a more detailed view of prehistoric cultures.Until now, the oldest known human-made figures were ivory sculptures found in Germany.Scientists have estimated that those figurines — of horses, birds and people — were at most 40,000 years old.

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