Paleolithic cave art is an exceptional archive of early human symbolic behavior, but because obtaining reliable dates has been difficult, its chronology is still poorly understood after more than a century of study. We present uranium-series disequilibrium dates of calcite deposits overlying or underlying art found in 11 caves, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo, and Tito Bustillo, Spain. The results demonstrate that the tradition of decorating caves extends back at least to the Early Aurignacian period, with minimum ages of 40.8 thousand years for a red disk, 37.3 thousand years for a hand stencil, and 35.6 thousand years for a claviform-like symbol. These minimum ages reveal either that cave art was a part of the cultural repertoire of the first anatomically modern humans in Europe or that perhaps Neandertals also engaged in painting caves.
- Latest Mousterian: 45.5 Ka calBP (42.1 Ka BP, uncalibrated C14)
- Earliest Aurignacian: 44.7 Ka calBP (41.1 Ka BP, uncalibrated C14) [but see comments on the nature of this “Aurignacian”]
|El Castillo rock art (several periods) – source|
It is worth reminding however that rock art from Australia depicting the long-gone Genyornis giant duck is probably older than this European art and without any reasonable doubt was made by Homo sapiens.
Update (Jun 15): Pileta includes now a video of the presentation of the study in Spanish language (scroll down).
Update (Jun 16): I strongly recommend any interested reader to take a look at the comments section. Prehistorian and Neanderfan Millán Mozota makes many most interesting comments on the chronology and arguable Transitional Aurignacian nature of layer 18 from El Castillo cave.
Update (Jun 19): Jean Clottes and others question the certainty of the dating method.