Carbon dating cave paintings
Determining the ages of cave paintings—from the hands in the Panel de las Manos in El Castillo to the mammoths and other Ice Age beasts that adorn the walls of Chauvet in France—has proved a difficult thing to do.
Scientists can reliably assess the antiquity of human and animal bones as well as charcoal from hearths using proven techniques such as radiocarbon dating.
In a cave in northwestern Spain called El Castillo, ancient artists decorated a stretch of limestone wall with dozens of depictions of human hands.
They seem to have made the images by pressing a hand to the wall and then blowing red pigment on it, creating a sort of stencil.
Hand stencils are a common motif in the cave paintings of Spain and France, and like all cave art, they have long been considered to be the work of anatomically modern humans like us.
A team led by Alistair Pike of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom sought to confirm previously assigned dates or establish new dates for cave paintings by applying uranium series analysis of calcium carbonate deposits overlaying or underlaying paints applied to cave walls.Located in northern Spain, not far from the village of Antillana del Mar in Cantabria, the Upper Paleolithic cave complex at Altamira is famous for its magnificent multi-coloured cave painting, as well as its rock engravings and drawings.