DC - Dendrochronology

These animal carvings now in New Kalabsha, Southern Egypt are older than the ruin, the Kiosk of Qertassi that they stand beside Figure 1. The problem is that they are just marks cut or incised into the rock and our ability to age them is not as good as with organic materials. Defining the subject and age of rock paintings can mean archaeologists are able to determine more about the life of prehistoric peoples and acquire a better understanding of our origins.

40,000-year-old cave paintings discovered could be oldest ever

However, dating rock art has been a struggle for archaeologists ever since the first discoveries of it in the late 19th century. It is possible to determine a number of things based on where the art is found and when it was found, but not everything can be learnt from that. Dating ancient material relies on the use of two approaches — direct or absolute and indirect or relative dating or chronology. For example, consider relative dating. If something is found with another object that the archaeologist already knows the age of and the area has not been disturbed since they were placed together, it is safe to say they both come from the same time.

More importantly, if it is found below the object archaeologists know it must be older. But it does not produce precise dates.

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If archaeologists can date something precisely that is absolute dating. The problem is it requires highly scientific methods. There is a difficulty with something painted, particularly if the paints all seem to have the same composition. Here, archaeologists have to use the materials themselves and try to date it using some property or component within the material. The most common example of this form of absolute chronology, which we can use with rock paintings, is radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating also called carbon dating only works with organic things; materials that came from living things.

It relies upon the fact that plants take in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and use it to make its chemicals. Animals eat these plants and the carbon is taken up into their chemicals. The carbon element is composed of two different atoms called isotopes meaning they have the same number of protons but there are differing numbers of neutrons in each different type of atom. When we add the number of protons, also known as the atomic number, to the number of neutrons, the total is the atomic mass number.

The most common carbon atom has 6 protons and 6 neutrons, so the atomic number for this carbon isotope is 6 and the atomic mass number is This can be written as:.

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Carbon typically has 6 neutrons making the isotope carbon 12 C12 , but some carbon atoms have 7 neutrons making carbon 13 C13 and some carbon atoms have 8 neutrons making carbon 14 C The carbon 14 isotope is radioactive. The various isotopes are found in organic materials in the proportions shown in Figure 2. This last procedure involves the use of a radioactive source, though very weak. Automatic instrumentation which allows measurement of thermoluminescence light from samples and also determines the dose rate per year.

The word Dendrochronology comes from dendros which means trees. Dendochronology is the scientific method of dating wood based on the analysis of tree-ring patterns. In many types of wood, Dendrochronology can date the time at which tree rings were formed, down to the exact calendar year. In some areas of the world, it is possible to date wood back a few thousand years, or even several thousand. In most areas, however, wood can only be dated back several hundred years, if at all. Dendrochronology has become important to art historians in the dating of panel paintings, and can also provide information as to the source of the panel.

Dendrochronology can help to date a panel by analysing the pattern of tree rings within a plank to determine the calendar period during which the tree grew. Therefore dendrochronology is used successfully for authentication purposes, to establish if a panel is as old as it is purported to be. The first is signed , therefore we just need to confirm this date.

Pigments through the Ages - Dating works

The second is just attributed to based on stylistic details. The third is signed , but needs confirmation. The first thing to do is overlap and compare the rings patterns of the three panels. You can see clearly that all the tree piece of wood come from the same geographical region and belong to the same historical period. This is a useful information for the authentication of the art works - at least, of their panels.

But there is even more information that you can extract from these graphs.

Rock (Art) of Ages: Indonesian Cave Paintings Are 40,000 Years Old

The last ring of the second portrait panel dates back to and we know that generally, a period of years was necessary for the wood panel to be ready to be used for panel painting. Therefore the attribution of the second painting to should be revised to Dendrochronology was discovered by A. Douglass from the University of Arizona, who noted that certain species of trees produced wide rings during wet years and, inversely, narrow rings during dry seasons.

Each year, a tree adds a layer of wood to its trunk and branches, thus creating the annual rings we see when viewing a cross section.

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New wood grows from the layer between the old wood and the bark. In the spring, when moisture is plentiful, the tree produces new growth cells. These first new cells are large, but as the summer progresses their size decreases until, in the fall, growth stops and cells die, with no new growth until the next spring. The climatic changes or patterns in specific geographic areas can be traced by the study of old living trees.

Samples taken from trees of unknown age can then be studied for matches with samples from trees with known sequences of growth.


Using this process, when the rings "match" or are found to be overlapping in age, we are able to "see" even further back in time. A chronology arrangement of events in time can be made by comparing different samples. Its outer growth rings were compared with the inner rings of a living tree. If a pattern of individual ring widths in the two samples prove to be identical at some point, we can carry dating further into the past.

With this method of matching overlapping patterns found in different wood samples, oak tree chronologies can be established into the past for a specific region. Three pieces of wood are used to establish a dendrochronology for their region. The first tree was cut down in , and it is possible to count backwards to The second piece of wood shows an overlap for the years The third piece of wood shows an overlap with the second one.

Therefore it is now possible to date any piece of wood grown between and You probably have seen or read news stories about fascinating ancient artifacts: At an archaeological dig, a piece of wooden tool is unearthed and the archaeologist finds it to be 5, years old. A hand stencil design on the wall of a cave in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Hand stencils, like the one pictured above from a cave in Sulawesi, are common in prehistoric art. A cave wall with a babirusa painting and hand stencil shows the range in simple to sophisticated artwork found in the Maros-Pankep caves. The red dots above in El Castillo cave's Corredor de los Puntos have been dated to 34, to 36, years ago. Elsewhere in the cave, a similar dot is estimated to be 40, years old, again based on uranium dating. Scientists suspect that the elaborate animal murals were painted around 20, years ago.

Courtesy of Flickr user Adibu Artwork of fighting rhinoceroses painted on the wall of Chauvet cave in France. Based on radiocarbon dating of charcoal pigment used to create the paintings, the oldest animal image in Chauvet cave is estimated to be 32, years old. A painting of a bison in Altamira cave, Spain. Uranium dating suggests that the art work at Altamira was produced around 20, years ago, or between 35, and 15, years ago.

During excavations in , a female figurine dubbed "Venus of Hohle Fels" was discovered in Hohle Fels cave in southwestern Germany. Scientist estimate that this figurine is at least 35, years old. Sand strikers, also known as bobbit worms, are primitive-looking creatures that lack eyes, or even a brain. Despite this, they are savage predators who shoot out grapple-like hooks to reel in passing fish.

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