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Biology Articles » Paleobiology » New Technology For Dating Ancient Rock Paintings
March 16, 2009 — A new dating method finally
is allowing archaeologists to incorporate rock paintings — some of the
most mysterious and personalized remnants of ancient cultures — into
the tapestry of evidence used to study life in prehistoric times.
In the study, Marvin W. Rowe points out that rock paintings, or
pictographs, are among the most difficult archaeological artifacts to
date. They lack the high levels of organic material needed to assess a
pictograph's age using radiocarbon dating, the standard archaeological
technique for more than a half-century.
Rowe describes a new, highly sensitive dating method, called
accelerator mass spectrometry, that requires only 0.05 milligrams of
carbon (the weight of 50 specks of dust). That's much less than the
several grams of carbon needed with radiocarbon dating.
The research included analyzing pictographs from numerous countries
over a span of 15 years. It validates the method and allows rock
painting to join bones, pottery and other artifacts that tell secrets
of ancient societies, Rowe said. "Because of the prior lack of methods
for dating rock art, archaeologists had almost completely ignored it
before the 1990s," he explained. "But with the ability to obtain
reliable radiocarbon dates on pictographs, archaeologists have now
begun to incorporate rock art into a broader study that includes other
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