The archaeologist who discovered the Chauvet paintings (France) in 1998, Jean Clottes, has questioned the claim that cave paintings in caves in northern Spain are so ancient. The researcher has stated that it is necessary to analyze them more thoroughly before confirm that they really are that old.
The controversy comes after the publication of a study carried out by a team led by Alistair Pike, from the University of Bristol in England. In writing, Pike claimed that El Castillo cave paintings date back more than 40,800 years. This data would make those cave works about 4,000 years older than those of the Chauvet cave in France and, at the same time, would validate the theory that they were made by neanderthals.
Pike's team used a method based on the radioactive decay of uranium to analyze calcium carbonate crusts formed on top of paints. This system contrasts with the dating by radiocarbon used in Chauvet and both methods have had their pluses and minuses throughout history.
Clottes comments: “You have to keep a cool head and not go out of the way to go towards the sensational. Both methods should be used in new tests whenever possible. You always have to check”. For its part, Pike argues that radiocarbon dating was avoided at El Castillo, as it does not work when there is no organic pigment. and only small samples can be dated to minimize damage to art, which is seen to magnify the effects of contamination and leads to large uncertainties.
“Series dating of uranium is also susceptible to being inaccurate”, He asserts Clottes. Some of the uranium in the calcite may have been washed away by water currents, so that the samples may appear older than they actually are. The French researcher cites the dating of the Borneo cave paintings as an example of the discrepancies between both types of methods.
In any event, the Pike team continues to collect more samples, both in Spain and France, and will spend the next year analyzing them for determine if the works were painted by Neanderthals. In Pike's words: “This is only the beginning of the process, not the end. At this point next year, we will be scratching our heads stating that it is still ambiguous or we may be able to come up with a highly authoritative and definitive statement.”.
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.