Oldest confirmed cave art is a single red dot
2012 06 15

By Michael Marshall NewScientist.com

As cave art goes, it doesn’t look like much: a single red dot, hidden among a scatter of handprints and drawings of animals on the wall of El Castillo cave in northern Spain.

But this red dot is at least 40,800 years old, making it the oldest known piece of cave art in Europe. At that time modern humans had only just migrated out of Africa, raising a tantalising possibility: that the dot was drawn by a Neanderthal. If that’s the case, our extinct cousins may have had the rudiments of written language.


A hand stencil in El Castillo cave, Spain, has been dated to earlier than 37,300 years ago and a red dot to earlier than 40,600 years ago, making them the oldest cave paintings in Europe (Image: Pedro Saura)


While cave art is common throughout western Europe, the oldest dated examples are those in Chauvet cave in France, which have controversially been dated to between 35,000 and 30,000 years ago.

But many other pieces of cave art have never been dated. Standard radiocarbon dating only works when paintings were made using organic material like charcoal. Anything drawn with minerals like ochre, or just carved into the wall, can not be carbon dated.

Now, Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol, UK, and colleagues have come up with a partial solution that will put a minimum age on some previously un-datable paintings.

As water seeps through rock and dribbles over the cave surface, it leaves behind a thin layer of calcite. This contains radioactive uranium, which slowly decays into thorium at a known rate.

So, by measuring how much uranium has decayed into thorium, Pike figured he could determine the age of the calcite layer.

If the calcite overlays a painting, it will provide a minimum age for that art.

[...]

Although dramatic drawings of large animals tend to be the focus of attention, most cave art consists of simple symbols like the ones Pike studied. Nowell and her colleague Genevieve von Petzinger have found the same symbols drawn all over the world, so they may represent an early form of written language. Could this mean Neanderthals were able to write? Only the discovery of similar, but older symbols will say for sure.


Read the full article at: newscientist.com





Related Articles
The Caveman Diet: Grain Free, Disease Free
Astonishing cave has inspired Celtic legends and modern art
Cave painters were realists, DNA study finds
Ancient art studio found in African cave
Cave of Forgotten Dreams - 30,000 Year Old Paleolithic Art in 3D
Female Genitalia Carvings Are Europe’s Oldest Rock Art


Latest News from our Front Page

Extremists to have Facebook and Twitter vetted by anti-terror police
2014 09 30
Theresa May to announce new Extremist Disruption Orders to strengthen counter-terrorism if the Tories win the next general election Extremists will have to get posts on Facebook and Twitter approved in advance by the police under sweeping rules planned by the Conservatives. They will also be barred from speaking at public events if they represent a threat to “the functioning of democracy”, ...
Scottish Independence: Protesters demand revote
2014 09 30
Pro-independence campaigners gathered outside the Scottish Parliament for the second day in a row, this time to demand a revote of the September 18 referendum. While yesterday’s “Rally For A Revote” saw the return of Saltires and Yes banners to Holyrood, it did not match the turnout for the “Voice Of The People” rally held on Saturday, when up 3000 people ...
Water rationing hits California: limit of 50 gallons per person per day or face fines of $500
2014 09 29
Millions of Californians are about to be hit with strict water rationing -- daily "allocation" numbers that represent the maximum amount of water you’re allowed to use for any purpose. Households that exceed the allocation limit will face stiff fines of hundreds of dollars per violation. "In July, the State Water Resources Control Board passed stage one emergency regulations, giving powers ...
Much of Earth’s Water is Older than the Sun
2014 09 29
Much of the water on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system likely predates the birth of the sun, a new study reports. The finding suggests that water is commonly incorporated into newly forming planets throughout the Milky Way galaxy and beyond, researchers said — good news for anyone hoping that Earth isn’t the only world to host life. “The implications of ...
Did the Vikings Get a Bum Rap?
2014 09 29
A Yale historian wants us to rethink the terrible tales about the Norse. This illustration shows the stereotype of Viking marauders wreaking mayhem, even on clergy. The scene depicts the monastery at Clonmacnoise, Ireland. The Vikings gave no quarter when they stormed the city of Nantes, in what is now western France, in June 843—not even to the monks barricaded in the ...
More News »