Oldest confirmed cave art is a single red dot
2012-06-15 0:00

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

Pressure from the United Patriots Front Stops Mosque Plan
2016-04-28 20:10
Pressure from the United Patriots Front appears to have killed off a mosque development in Narre Warren North. The City of Casey council now looks likely to withhold planning approval for the development in a special meeting set for Tuesday night. A council report, to be considered by councillors on Tuesday, recommends that the approval be blocked. The mosque opponents’ cause has been helped by councillor ...
Police face questions over the influence of the Freemasons
2016-04-28 20:48
South Yorkshire Police today face questions over whether powerful 'secret society' the Freemasons held sway over the force at the time of Hillsborough. Families of victims say that officers who were Masons were promoted into powerful positions despite being ill-equipped, including match commander David Duckenfield. Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his ...
England Bans its Own Flag to Avoid Offending Muslims
2016-04-27 2:23
St. George's Cross "racist" towards immigrants Government officials said their city was ‘too multicultural’ to celebrate St George’s Day, England’s version of the 4th of July. The council said that displaying the English flag may have been seen as “racist” towards immigrants.
Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’
2016-04-27 2:09
Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown. The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent. He was part of a new order which emerged in ...
"Local Residents" Are Filmed Stealing Dozens of Bottles of Water at London Marathon Stop
2016-04-25 23:10
Editor's Comment: "Local" residents? Why bother blurring their faces? We know who they are. ... London marathon runners were robbed of dozens of bottled waters when thieves raided a refreshment area armed with trolleys during today's race. Nearby residents - including parents with children - were captured on camera piling up crates of free water handed out by volunteers during the 26-mile event. Marathon ...
More News »