The dating by uranium series, published in Science, revealed world’s earliest cave painting , a Paleolithic paintings of El Castillo cave in Cantabria region , that are dated to more than 40,000 years and opens the way to speculation about its authorship that could be attributed both to Homo sapiens as Homo neanderthalensis.
An international team of scientists, with Spanish participation, placed the oldest rock art in world in the Cantabrian Castle cave, with more than 40,000 years old. The researchers analyzed 50 samples of 11 caves in northern Spain, among which are the caves of Altamira (Cantabria), and Tito Bustillo (Asturias).
The results of this project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council Research (NERC) and has been featured in Science magazine, cave Paleolithic art begins in Europe 10,000 years earlier than had been thought so far .
Therefore, Altamira, El Castillo and Tito Bustillo could be made ??by early modern humans who came to Europe, or even could be attributed to the Neanderthals.
“The results show that the rock art in the Iberian Peninsula is not limited to the last Upper Paleolithic, 20,000 years ago, but which goes back at least to the first Upper Paleolithic, 35,000 years ago. The minimum age obtained in the paintings of El Castillo opens the possibility that this art arose in Neanderthal societies, or as a result of interactions between Neanderthals and modern humans during the period that were in contact in Europe, “explains Yoão Zilhao, a researcher at the Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA) who is also involved in the study.
This new dating opens the door to speculation about the authorship of the first cave paintings as Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis coexisted in Europe and supports the idea that there was a gradual increase in graphics and technological complexity of the paintings, and a gradual appearance of figurative images.
The age of the pigments of the caves
The researchers, led by Alistair Pike of Bristol University (UK) used the method of dating by uranium series for dating of absolute form of European rock art with greater precision.
Despite the great advances in dating techniques, “it is extremely difficult to determine the age of the thin layers of pigment found in the caves,” said Dirk Hoffmann, head of the Uranium Series laboratory of the National Center for Research on Evolution Humana (CENIEH) and coauthor of the study.
This is because on the one hand, traditional methods such as radiocarbon dating, do not work where there is no organic pigment and on the other hand, often, researchers are limited to reconstruct the chronology by comparing the styles of the paintings and, where possible, relating to human remains or artifacts found in the immediate environment.
To solve this problem, Pike’s team dated the calcite patinas that slowly form over cave art as mineral-rich water trickles over the paintings. The water contains trace levels of radioactive uranium, but not the water insoluble thorium into which the uranium steadily decays. The relative levels of uranium to thorium thus form a clock that records when the calcite layer was formed. The layers can take anywhere from several hundred to several thousand years to form, providing a minimum date for the art, Pike says.
His team collected 50 calcite scrapings from 11 caves, and came up with dates as old as 40,800 years, a minimum age for the disk in El Castillo cave1. That image, as well as other slightly younger disks from Castillo and a club-shaped image from Altamira cave, would have been painted at around the time the first modern humans, called the Aurignacian culture, reached the Iberian Peninsula. Younger paintings in the Spanish caves, including handprints and figurative drawings of animals, date to later human occupations.
Zilhao, who began this research as a scientist at the University of Bristol, said that the work will be continued and existing project to date through the new system other paintings in caves of the Iberian Peninsula, France and Italy. “Just be viable if we get the funding needed,” concludes Hoffmann, who works in the CENIEH since 2009.