The Paleolithic paintings in the cave of El Castillo, in northern Spain, date back at least to 40,800 years, making them the oldest in Europe. The research team, led by the University of Bristol and with the collaboration of Dr. Paul Pettitt, has concluded that rock art in Europe began up to 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, which would indicate that the paintings were created by the first humans or, perhaps, by Neanderthals.
A total of 50 works belonging to 11 different caves in northern Spain, including those of Altamira, El Castillo and Tito Bustillo, have been dated by a group of researchers from the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal. Since traditional methods, such as radiocarbon dating, do not work where there are no organic pigments, the team has dated the formation of tiny stalactites on top of the paintings using the radioactive decay of uranium.
The hand templates and discs made using the technique of blowing painting on the walls of the cave of El Castillo date back 40,800 years, making them the oldest pieces of rock art in Europe, between 5,000 and 10,000 years older than France.
In Altamira There is a symbol in the shape of a staff that is at least 35,600 years old. This indicates that the painting began there 10,000 years earlier than previously thought and that the cave was repainted several times over a period that would span more than 20,000 years.
According to him doctor pike: “Evidence for the existence of modern humans in northern Spain dates back 41,500 years. Our results show that either humans came with painting being a part of their cultural activity, or it developed very shortly afterwards, perhaps in response to competition against Neanderthals, so the art may even be Neanderthal.”.
The creation of art by humans it is considered an important marker of the evolution of modern cognition and symbolic behavior, so that it can be associated with the development of language.
The results of the project are particularly significant because rock art has always been difficult to accurately date to date: "Etchings and, in many cases, paintings lack organic pigments or binders suitable for radiocarbon dating. When the right materials are given, such as charcoal pigments, only small samples are dated to minimize damage to the art. This magnifies the effects of test contamination and sometimes produces less accurate results.”Says Pike.
That is why the research team measured uranium isotopes at the root of the thin calcite stalactites that formed on the surfaces of paintings and prints. This technique is known as "uranium-series imbalance”And is widely used in science to avoid the problems related to radiocarbon dating.
For his part, Dr. Pettitt states: “Until now, our understanding of the antiquity of rock art has been poor, but we have steadily expanded it following these new investigations that place it in the last moments of Neanderthals and the first of Homo sapiens. The first images did not represent animals, suggesting that the first artistic stage corresponded to non-figurative art, which may have important implications for the development of art”.
A member of the team and dating expert, Dr. Dirk Hoffmann from the National Center for Research on Human Evolution (CENIEH) in Burgos, argues that the key development of the research was the method they used to dating small deposits of calcium carbonate similar to stalactites: "We can now date samples as low as 10 milligrams, allowing us to find some that had formed directly on top of hundreds of paintings, places where larger stalactites are less frequent.”.
Passionate about History, he has a degree in Journalism and Audiovisual Communication. Since he was little he loved history and ended up exploring the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries above all.