Application isotopes carbon dating
‘Then you start to find the problems with it.’ Atmospheric carbon variations, including variability in the all-important carbon-14, left the method unreliable. that we could begin to correct for some of these variations in radiocarbon production,’ Walker says.
Although carbon dating is now more reliable, it has one major drawback: it only goes back 50,000 years, leaving most of human history outside its reach.
‘We’ve got dates that are tantalisingly close to the point at which modern humans arrived,’ explains Pike. hand stencils to see whether or not dates come out in the period where we know there were only Neanderthals in northern Spain.’The issue of Neanderthal art regularly appears in the media, but is controversial in the academic world.
For some, it fits in with emerging evidence that Neanderthals were an intelligent human species, but others remain unconvinced.
The first excavations in the 1950s and 1960s revealed a hub of ancient human activity, spanning thousands of years’ worth of artefacts.
Unfortunately much of it originates from outside radiocarbon dating’s timescale. was almost non-existent,’ says Geoff Duller, a geochronologist from the University of Aberystwyth in Wales.
[but] if you haven’t got organic pigment in there, you can’t use radiocarbon and you’d be destroying the art, which is very valuable.
Like we recognise art as quintessentially human, we also consider tool use and technological progress to be defining for our species, and it was as important to ancient humans as it is to us.But when you start looking at when humans behave like humans, it seems that this doesn’t match up with the date.’Although the earliest cave art falls within the timescale of radiocarbon dating, it can’t be used for the paintings that Pike’s team were interested in.‘Most archaeologists would turn to radiocarbon dating …‘We’re kind of at the mercy of geochemistry.’Pike’s team used this method to give a minimum date to red hand stencils found in a cave in northern Spain called El Castillo, which contains the oldest known cave art in the world. This is long after humans were supposed to become anatomically modern, adding to the evidence suggesting that early anatomically modern humans didn’t necessarily act modern. Anatomically modern humans arrived in northern Spain around 42,000 to 43,000 years ago, and Neanderthals died out between 39,000 and 41,000 years ago.But because the stencil date is a minimum age, there’s a chance the Neanderthals could have been the artists.