Page last updated at 09:39 GMT, Tuesday, 7 October 2008 10:39 UK

New method used to date cave art

Dr Alistair Pike cutting a sample from a small stalactite formed on the main panel at Tito Bustillo cave, Asturias
The paintings show horses, deer and cattle: photo Rodrigo de Balbin

Experts from the University of Bristol are to attempt to accurately date prehistoric caves.

The team from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology travelled to northern Spain to collect samples of paintings from more than 20 caves.

They will use a new method, based on the radioactive decay of uranium, to date the paintings.

Samples have been taken from the cave of Tito Bustillo in Asturias and La Pasiega Cave in Cantabria.

Dr Alistair Pike, the project leader said: "These cave paintings are one of the most intimate windows into the minds of people who lived more than 15,000 years ago, but have proved extremely difficult to date.


It's not unusual for us to spend 10 hours a day underground, but the paintings are so spectacular it's always worth it

Dr Alistair Pike

"Traditional methods of dating the pigments, such as radiocarbon, are destructive to the paintings, and the samples are prone to contamination.

"We are using a new method that can date thin calcite layers that have formed over the surface of the paintings."

In the course of the three year project, the researchers hope to more than double the numbers of dates on European prehistoric cave art.

They will then relate their findings to the expansion and contraction of human populations in response to the changing climate of the last Ice Age.

"Some of the paintings were deliberately done in the least accessible parts of the caves so there's often a lot of crawling," said Dr Pike.

"It's not unusual for us to spend 10 hours a day underground, but the paintings are so spectacular it's always worth it."

As well as representations of horses, deer and cattle, the caves also contain more than 100 abstract symbols and several series of isolated dots.




RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Telegraph Cave paintings took 20,000 years - 05 Oct 2008
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TV movies for the week of Oct. 5 (Today) - 05 Oct 2008



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2016 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific