The tests were conducted on 50 Paleolithic paintings in 11 Spanish caves, including the famous pictures of horses and human hands at the Altamira and El Castillo caves. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Neanderthal? used uranium-thorium dating of carbonate crusts to show that cave paintings from three different sites in Spain must be older than 64,000 years. The findings being reported today represent just an initial step in an "ongoing program" to date hundreds of European cave paintings more accurately, said the University of Bristol's Alistair Pike, lead author of a paper published in the journal Science. This suggests that uranium-series dating can go back to time frames where carbon dating becomes less reliable. El Castillo Cave in northern Spain is famous for containing the oldest cave art in Europe: a red disk that was painted on the cave wall at least 40,800 years ago, perhaps as long as 42,000 years ago. One of the paintings tested was of a red disk that archaeologists say was probably made by blowing pigment onto the wall in a cave known as El Castillo. Nearby, there was the red outline of a hand, most likely made by placing the hand on the rock and blowing pigment over it. has worked on some of the same cave paintings that were recently put to the test, going back as far as 75,000 to 100,000 years, may or may not have been shaped as a flute for Neanderthals, Neanderthal ritual objects or fashion statements, Delson told The Associated Press' Seth Borenstein, Cave paintings of horses based on reality, Oldest cave art focuses on female sex organs, Gallery: Ancient rock art from around the world. ET: University of Arizona geochemist Warren Beck got back to me with his outside perspective on the uranium-series test, and in a word, he thinks it's an "improvement" on previous methods when it comes to figuring out the age of rock art. Previously, archaeologists had thought the paintings went back to about 38,000 years. The 11 caves that were sampled are Pedroses, Tito Bustillo, Las Aguas, Altamira, Santian, El Pendo, El Castillo, La Pasiega, Las Chimeneas, Covalanas and La Haza. ", Penn State archaeologist Dean Snow, who wasn't part of the research team but has worked on some of the same cave paintings that were recently put to the test, was impressed by the results. The results, if correct, include the earliest ever reported date for cave art: A red disk from El Castillo Cave, on the Pas River in northern Spain, clocked in at a minimum of 40,800 years. In some cases, the scientists could sample flowstone deposits beneath the layer of paint to get a maximum age as well. The paintings were first discovered in the 1870s. Hand stencils and the outlines of animals dominate. Or the Neanderthals themselves could have created the first paintings, and Homo sapiens picked up the artistic habit while Homo neanderthalensis faded away. "For the profession, part of the excitement is going to be that we've got some technologies that are going to be viable for sites in the 30,000- to 50,000-year range," Snow told me. Located in El Castillo cave in the Cantabria region … For example, the 40,800-year-old painting in the El Castillo cave was a large red disk, probably created by blowing pigment onto the rock surface. Cave Paintings in Spain: So Old Neanderthals Could Have Done Them. Spots and stencils in El Castillo cave, Spain — one at least 40,800 years old — might be the handiwork of Neanderthals. Up until now, it has been believed that only Homo sapiens could have created Paleolithic cave art. The oldest of the paintings is a red sphere from a cave called El Castillo. Scientists suspect that the Neanderthals fell victim to competition with us Homo sapiens types, but they also have found that the species contributed to our genetic heritage through interbreeding. Beck thought Pike and his team took "a very conservative approach here." At more than 40,800 years old, they may be Earth’s oldest cave art. ... cuevas del Castillo, Altamira y el Juyo. Lasheras and R. Montes. "But the research developments over the last decade have shown that this is probably not deserved.". But new work coming from sophisticated dating techniques suggests otherwise: Neanderthals may have been artists. Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Int. Could further tests by Pike and his team change Delson's mind? By Ned Potter June 14, 2012. A researcher from the University of Bristol removes samples from Tito Bustillo Cave in Spain. The stalactite is painted with a red figure that dates back 29,000 to 36,000 years. This cave contained the 40,800-year-old red disk. They used a technique called uranium-thorium dating. The scientists can thus be confident that the age they get will be the minimum age for the artwork. It's also thousands of years earlier than the previously accepted maximum age, based on carbon dating. U.S. "In probabilistic terms, I would say there is a strong chance that these results imply Neanderthal authorship," Zilhao said. Image: Pedro Saura. "Cave painting is of course one of the most exquisite examples of human symbolic behavior," he said. Newsl. It … Neandertal cave art. Hand stencils in El Castillo cave, Spain. When Homo sapiens first began their northward migration from Africa to Europe around 40,000 years ago, some joined the Neanderthals here in Cantabria, a … Using advanced techniques, the scientists have confirmed that the oldest image on the wall of El Castillo cave in Spain drawn by the Neanderthals is more than 40, 800 years old This hand stencil in Spain's El Castillo cave dates back at least 37,300 years, based on uranium-series testing, and could conceivably show a Neanderthal hand outline. "You don't have to have both the art and the occupation in the same site," he says, noting that there are no associated human remains at caves famous for their Paleolithic art, such as Chauvet. "You've got to have measurement capabilities that are really, really precise," he said. This contains radioactive uranium, which slowly decays into thorium at a known rate. The scrapings amounted to as little as 10 milligrams, which is about the weight of a grain of rice. Also, the calcite deposits are scraped away, using a knife or a drill, until the pigment just begins to appear beneath it. The new tests push the age back to near the time when modern humans were first thought to have inhabited the area, around 42,000 years ago. That date is the minimum possible age of the art behind it. About 25 outlined handprints in another cave … The team's dating of the Gorham etching makes it one of the oldest examples of cave art in Europe. As water seeps through rock and dribbles over the cave surface, it leaves behind a thin layer of calcite. The research team is currently concentrating on hand stencils and red disks, which appear to be the oldest types of cave paintings in Spain. The Cave of El Castillo (Cave of the Castle), is a Stone Age rock shelter in Spain which contains the oldest cave painting yet discovered: namely, a panel of abstract signs and hand stencils rock art located in the "Gallery of the Hands", one of which (a disk of red ochre) has been Uranium/Thorium dated by Dr. Alistair Pike of Bristol University, to at least 39,000 BCE. "And that's what makes us human.". Another possibility is that humans started painting cave walls soon after their arrival in Europe — perhaps as the result of cultural competition with the native Neanderthals, who are known to have inhabited the region as far back as 250,000 years ago. Notably, rather than directly examining the art, scientists instead analyzed calcium carbonate (calcite) crusts that covered the paintings. In mid-June 2012, a team of European researchers announced the results of a reinvestigation of 50 paintings found in 11 caves on the northwestern coast of Spain. If it can be proved that these are their paintings, Neanderthals would have been capable of symbolic thought, since painting involves using images to convey meanings understood within a social group. Pike and his colleagues pioneered this process years ago, in a project aimed at verifying the dates for 12,800-year-old cave engravings in England's Creswell Crags, but the tests reported today represent the highest-profile application of what's known as uranium-series disequilibrium dating. Using mass spectrometry, scientists can measure thorium in a calcite sample as small as a grain of rice to arrive at an approximate date when the crust formed. Thus, the disk's creation took place around the time when modern humans first arrived in Europe, sometime between 40,000 and 45,000 years ago. He and his team think the revised date of the El Castillodisk suggests Neanderthals could be responsible for the painting. The El Castillo cave contains the oldest known cave painting: a large red stippled disk in the Panel de las Manos was dated to more than 40,000 years old using uranium-thorium dating in a 2012 study. Hand stencils and disks made by blowing paint onto the wall in the El Castillo cave, for example, were found to be at least 40,800 years old, making them the oldest known art in Europe. "They could be substantially older," Beck said. When archaeologists tried out a new technique to determine the age of Spain's most famous Paleolithic cave paintings, they were surprised to discover that the paintings were thousands of years older than previously thought — so old that it's conceivable they were painted by Neanderthals. 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