Carbon Dating of
Spectrometry has dated prehistoric cave
paintings in south central France at about
30,000 years old, a discovery which has
the art world rethinking its origins.
The charcoal etchings on a
cave wall depict horses, rhinoceros and a
deer. The drawings were discovered in 1994
at a narrow entrance to several
underground chambers in a rocky escarpment
in the Ardeche region in France.
Scientists of the Laboratory for Climate
and Environment Studies at the France's
CEA-CNRS research centre carried out
carbon dating of tiny fragments of the
charcoal. They used accelerator mass
spectrometry, which separates and counts
radioactive carbon isotopes residual in
the charcoal and found the drawings to be
between 29 700 and 32 400 years old.
This finding makes the drawings
significantly older than those of Lascaux
caves in the Pyrenees in Southwest France
which are dated at around 17 000 years
old. The drawings in the Chauvet caves
show that early European dwellers were
just as skilled at art as the humans who
followed 13 000 years later.
Prehistorians, who have traditionally
interpreted the evolution of prehistoric
art as a steady progression from simple to
more complex representations, may have to
reconsider existing theories of the
origins of art as a result of these
Yet the oldest known objects considered to
be art are far older than the French cave
paintings and precede the existence of
anatomically modern humans, the Homo
sapiens. A tiny stone carving found in the
Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in 1981 is
estimated at 233 000 years old. And
pigments and paint-grinding equipment
found in a cave in 2000 at Twin Rivers,
near Lusaka in Zambia, are believed to be
between 350 000 and 400 000 years old.
The cave painting report appears in the
October 4 issue of Nature.