Calcium oxalate AMS 14C dating and chronology of post-Palaeolithic rock paintings in the Iberian Peninsula. Two dates from Abrigo de los Oculados (Henarejos, Cuenca, Spain)

Calcium oxalate AMS 14C dating and chronology of post-Palaeolithic rock paintings in the Iberian Peninsula. Two dates from Abrigo de los Oculados (Henarejos, Cuenca, Spain)

The chronology of open-air rock paintings in the Iberian Peninsula is still subject to scientific debate due to a paucity of direct radiocarbon dates. Rock paintings in this region include at least three different styles of art: Levantine, Schematic, and Macroschematic (Fig. 1). These traditions, especially Levantine art, possess an iconographic richness useful in elucidating social structures, hierarchies and conflicts, technologies, beliefs, and symbolism of these prehistoric societies. These styles become more significant given that they are possibly related to the first appearance of herder and farming economies in Western Europe.

However, their heuristic utility remains uncertain due to the lack of a solid chronological frame of reference. Calcium oxalate coatings have been identified in many rock art panels. In previous papers (Ruiz et al., 2006, 2009) we have proposed radiocarbon dating of these coatings offers a feasible method for testing chronological models based on stylistic comparisons with mobility objects. Radiocarbon dating of oxalate accretions may also help establish chronological limits for pictographs that, for whatever reason, cannot otherwise be dated directly. Here we extend this research, presenting post quem and ante quem radiocarbon dates for painted ‘eye-idols’ at Abrigo de los Oculados (Henarejos), a rock art site in the Sierra de las Cuerdas group (Cuenca, Spain). We used AMS 14C to analyze samples from oxalate coatings underlying, and also overlying pictographs there.
Chronology of the eye-idol motif has been inferred by archaeological methods, which could afford an independent way to refute or confirm the radiocarbon age bracket of calcium oxalate dates. The current chronology of post-Palaeolithic rock paintings of the Iberian Peninsula is based mainly on stylistic comparisons with mobility items. Schematic and Levantine art has for decades been considered mutually interdependent in unilineal evolutionary
schemes (Ripoll, 1964, 2001; Beltrán, 1968). Rock art described as Macroschematic was incorporated later into the same debate (Hernández et al., 1988).

nd zoomorphic reduced to simplified shapes, rendered mainly with broad strokes forming irregular lines. This style also features abstract motifs such as dashes and dots, and a large number of idol shapes (Breuil, 1933; Acosta, 1968), including eye idols. Schematic art is distributed across the whole Iberian Peninsula and is suggested to date from the Neolithic to Chalcolithic eras, based on many parallels with pottery and mobiliary items such as idols or steles (Hernández et al., 1988; Torregrosa and Galiana, 2001). Currently, there is an absolute consensus on this chronological frame, but questions arise. This style has been defined mainly by contraposition to Levantine art, which includes naturalistic animals and stylized humans, often figuring in complex narrative scenes (Beltrán, 1982). Consequently, every non-naturalistic motif in the Prehistory of the Iberian Peninsula, from the Neolithic to the Iron Age, has been included under this broad concept of Schematic art.

Some researchers are now beginning to describe distinct styles within Schematic art (Sanchidrián, 2001), such as so-called ‘black Schematic Cave art’ (Sanchidrián et al., 2001; García et al., 2005); Ancient Schematic art (Hernández, 2006) which is composed of zigzags, and is currently thought to have resulted from the spread of Macroschematic art, or Megalithic art (Bueno et al., 2007), defined by many iconographic coincidences with it.
After the discovery of Levantine art in 1903, Schematic art became integrated as a stage in the unilineal evolutionary schemes of the time. If Levantine art originated in the Palaeolithic (Breuil, 1920; Breuil and Cabré, 1909; Obermaier, 1924), and it was thought it always underlaid Schematic, the latter should be Neolithic (Breuil, 1933; Cabré, 1915; Hernández-Pacheco, 1924). By the mid 20th Century both styles were considered post-Palaeolithic, and Schematic art was interpreted as a logical consequence of evolution from stylized Levantine figures, as influenced by Neolithic and Metal Age Mediterranean cultures (Ripoll, 1964) and their iconography (Breuil, 1933; Acosta, 1968). Evidence more recently discovered has begun to complicate this simple sequence.

Beltrán (1968), whose evolutionary model for Levantine art did not include Schematic art, saw some Schematic figures underneath Levantine ones at La Sarga (Alcoy, Alicante). Soon after, a similar order of superimpositions was indicated for other sites in Eastern Iberia (Fortea, 1974, 1975). The discovery of Macroschematic art in Alicante province in the 1980s decisively altered the previous chronological model, because it underlay Levantine figures at several sites (Hernández et al., 1988).
The chronology of Macroschematic art has been established by stylistic parallels with decorations on cardinal pottery from the Early Neolithic of Cova de l’Or (Beniarrés, Alicante) and other archaeological sites (Martí and Hernández, 1988; Martí and Juan-Cabanilles, 2002). The iconography of this style includes schematic anthropomorphic and multiple snake-like figures, sometimes larger than 1 m. Based on these parallels, it was proposed that Macroschematic art falls between 5460 and 5230 cal BC (Fairén, 2004). For these investigators, this new style is older than Levantine and Schematic art in the Valencian region. They have also proposed some stylistic parallels for Levantine figures in epicardial pottery from these sites (Martí and Hernández,1988; Martí and Juan-Cabanilles, 2002). Thus, recent years have seen a growing tendency to place the origin of these three styles in the Neolithic, but with significant differences as to their role in the neolithisation process of the Iberian Peninsula (Hernández and Martí, 2000-2001; Hernández, 2006; Cruz and Vicent, 2007).
The chronology of Levantine art is still open to debate, however, as other researchers have questioned these analyses on various points. Some have rejected the pottery decoration parallels, considering them to be inadequate (Baldellou, 1988; Mateo, 2002; Viñas et al., 2010). Others consider that some of the superimpositions of Levantine pictographs over Macroschematic ones are incorrect (Ros, 2011). Likewise, the discovery of Levantine-style
engravings (Utrilla and Villaverde, 2004) have reopened the old debate on the continuity between Palaeolithic and Levantine art (Viñas et al., 2010). This complex panorama demands scientific dating to clarify. Here we present the results of AMS 14C dating for two calcium oxalate samples collected in Abrigo de los Oculados, both associated with typical Schematic pictographs. These results allow us to examine the feasibility of applying oxalate dates to rock art images, as a possible contribution to the establishment of a radiocarbon frame of reference for post-Palaeolithic pictorial styles of the Iberian Peninsula.

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