Artists who created the ancient masterpieces that we appreciate today—cave paintings, murals on cliff walls, countless carvings, and other artifacts—left no written records about the worlds in which they lived. This often makes it difficult to know when they lived. Fortunately, modern technology has helped scientists develop several dating methods to accurately date ancient art sites.
Scientists used carbon 14 dating to determine that the charcoal used at Chauvet was over 30,000 years old
Imagine this. You are squeezing through tight passages where your body barely fits. You are surrounded by darkness and navigating by torchlight. If your light dies you are stranded.
Seeing some of the ancient art sites is not easy work. Just look at what a leading Spanish anthropologist is willing to go through in order to document paleolithic art in the Northern Spain. Being underground is hard. It is dark, it is often cold and wet. It is an inhospitable realm.
Alistair Pike discusses the work he has done with Dirk Hoffmann in dating the cave paintings of Northern Spain in this short video that I shot for National Geographic. The open question that Pike is trying to answer in his research is are all the cave paintings of Europe Human or are some of them Neanderthal?
Its an interesting question. Neanderthals certainly could have produced some art, but there is not overwhelming evidence that they did. Refined dating techniques have pushed the age of the first paintings in Europe back. The oldest paintings are now known to be older than 40,000 years. But by the same token refinements in tracing migration by looking at the human genome indicate that homo sapiens sapiens first entered Europe 55,000 years ago. So the current oldest painting in El Castillo in Spain is well within the date range that modern humans occupied Europe.
Proving that Neanderthals made art will take a very old painting indeed.
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