Dating cave paintings

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Researchers have shown that some cave paintings in northwestern Spain are older than expected, which raises some questions about the artists responsible.According to Alistair Pike from the University of Bristol and colleagues from England and Spain, the tradition of decorating caves with colored pigments must have begun in Spain more than 40,000 years ago—an age that coincides with the arrival of modern humans in Europe.At death, the exchange stops, and the carbon-14 then decays with a known half-life, which enables scientists to calculate the time of death.However, it quickly became clear that something wasn’t quite right.Developed by Willard Libby in the 1940s – and winning him the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1960 – the basic principle of radiocarbon dating is simple: living things exchange carbon with their environment until they die.A portion of the carbon is the radioactive isotope carbon-14.The researchers’ results are published in the 15 June issue of the journal is excited to be publishing this paper because it both develops an approach for dating cave art and provides a rich series of dates on art in numerous caves,” said Brooks Hanson, the journal’s deputy editor for the physical sciences.

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No more carbon-14 is stored when these plants and animals die, but the ones already in their cells start the slow process of radioactive decay.These fluctuations have to be taken into account to correctly estimate the age of fossils.By reconstructing COlevels from the rings in ancient tree-trunks and the fossils of single-celled organisms, the scientists were able to more accurately refine the paintings’ age, making them 10 millennia older than previously thought.Because of stylistic similarities, researchers had long believed that the Chauvet art was from about the same period as that contained in Lascaux, a prehistoric site in southwestern France that dates to 20,000 years ago.The study took 18 years, and involved creating a statistical model which included more than 250 dates derived from samples of charcoal and bone, according to Jean-Michel Geneste, scientific director for the Chauvet-Pont d'Arc cave.

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