Science of dating cave paintings

The basic questions about early European cave art—who made it and whether they developed artistic talent swiftly or slowly—were thought by many researchers to have been settled long ago: Modern humans made the paintings, crafting brilliant artworks almost as soon as they entered Europe from Africa.

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Other archaeologists have argued that artists could have entered Chauvet much later and picked up charcoal that had been lying around for thousands of years.Other early dates include 37,300 years for a hand stencil at Tito Bustillo Cave and 35,600 years for a club-shaped image at the famous Altamira Cave, whose artworks were previously thought to be only about 17,000 years old.Forty-thousand years ago, Neandertals were still living in Spain, while modern humans were only just entering Europe.Because the calcite overlays the paintings, it must be younger than the art, and so yields minimum ages.In a few cases, the team also dated calcite underneath artworks, thus creating a "sandwich" that generated maximum and minimum dates."There is an emerging picture of the earliest cave art being largely nonfigurative," says Pettitt, who has long challenged the Chauvet dates as too old.

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