Radiocarbon dating of rock paintings: incorporating pictographs into the archaeological record

Radiocarbon dating of rock paintings: incorporating pictographs into the archaeological record


Understanding the mechanisms causing paint and bedrock degradation (Hernanz et al. 2007; Aramendia et al. 2020) are some of the common archaeological questions that can be effectively unraveled through physicochemical analyses. Beyond the more traditional dating purposes (Steelman and Rowe 2012; Ochoa et al. 2021), analytically studying rock paintings, we can gain information about the technological and sociocultural practices and backgrounds of prehistoric artists and, at the same time, acquire knowledge about the conservation of these particular artistic expressions often located in changing environments. Indeed, accurate diagnostic analysis of rock art productions can provide insight into pigments’ raw materials and their provenance, offering precious information on the geographic practices and the social networks of prehistoric artists and their counterparts Iriarte et al. 2009; Jezequel et al. 2011; Mas et al. 2013; Pitarch et al. 2014), as well as into painters’ manufacturing methods for pigment processing, such as grinding, heating, sieving and settling, and pigment application techniques (Menu and Walter 1992; Salomon et al. 2008; Bonneau et al. 2012; Salomon et al. 2015, Hernanz et al. 2008López et al. 2017; Cuenca-Solana et al. 2016; Gay et al. 2020).

Dating rock art:

Dating rock art is one of the major challenges faced by archaeologists, and it is absolutely necessary to place the art in the cultural context (Steelman and Rowe 2012; Ochoa et al. 2021). Not without technical difficulties and strict protocols to be followed in order to minimize damaging the paintings, in Western European Palaeolithic caves, both French and Spanish researchers have focused on determining the age of spectacular rock paintings by dating charcoal pigments, obtaining more than a hundred dates so far (Steelman and Rowe 2012; Ochoa et al. 2021). Standard procedures have been adopted for dating archaeological charcoal, using acid to remove carbonates and combustion to collect carbon for AMS 14 C dating.



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