By collecting samples of paint, researchers were able to identify the types of carbons in the pigments and ultimately date them as more than 5,000 years old – deeming the drawings the ‘earliest directly dated’ paintings in the region

First direct dates of rock art in Southern Africa revealed

The Southern region of Africa is known for its rich and detailed collection of rock art left by ancient hunters and gathers, but as much as these creations are well-understood, their exact dates are not.

By collecting samples of paint, researchers were able to identify the types of carbons in the pigments and ultimately date them as more than 5,000 years old – deeming the drawings the ‘earliest directly dated’ paintings in the region.

The team used a technique known as accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating, which is similar to traditional radiocarbon data, but analyzes smaller fragments instead of the complete artifact.

By collecting samples of paint, researchers were able to identify the types of carbons in the pigments and ultimately date them as more than 5,000 years old – deeming the drawings the ‘earliest directly dated’ paintings in the region

By collecting samples of paint, researchers were able to identify the types of carbons in the pigments and ultimately date them as more than 5,000 years old – deeming the drawings the ‘earliest directly dated’ paintings in the region

‘Research over the past 40 years has shown that the art is most productively and comprehensively explained as the material expression of the powers of ritual specialists (shamans) and of the wider cosmology within which those powers were exercised, often in altered states of consciousness,’ reads the study publish in the Journal Antiquity.

And this Later Stone Age Bushmen artwork has influenced rock art study around the globe.

The rock art in questions is located at 14 sites in three different regions of Southern Africa: the Thune Dam, Botswana, the Phuthiatsana Valley, Lesotho and the Maclear District in South Africa.

For years, experts have known the meanings behind the ancient images, but have been unable to determine when they were created.

One of the challenges for dating rock art is in order to study the drawings, researchers have to remove large pieces – which damages them.

However, the latest study takes a more innovated approach using accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS).

This method isolates small fragments of the artifacts, allowing researchers to thoroughly study them and ultimately learn more about what the ancient people used to create the works of art.

The rock art in questions is located at 14 sites in three different regions of Southern Africa: the Thune Dam, Botswana, the Phuthiatsana Valley, Lesotho and the Maclear District in South Africa

The rock art in questions is located at 14 sites in three different regions of Southern Africa: the Thune Dam, Botswana, the Phuthiatsana Valley, Lesotho and the Maclear District in South Africa

From each site, the team collected samples of paint about 0.5mm2 in size, which were ‘analyzed unprepared and in cross-section using light microscopy, scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) and Raman and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopies to determine morphology and elemental and molecular composition’.

The paint samples allowed them to determine if any were fit for to be analyzed using AMS radiocarbon dating and shed light on the paintings’ composition.

This also let researchers identify paintings consisting of carbon and if they originated from short-lived organic materials rather than charcoal – as the charcoal used could be much older than the paintings, IBTimes reported.

The team discovered that the Bushman people did use charcoal, but they also found soot and carbon black were in the pigment, two items that helped them date the paintings (in the Phuthiatsana Valley, Lesoth)

The team discovered that the Bushman people did use charcoal, but they also found soot and carbon black were in the pigment, two items that helped them date the paintings (in the Phuthiatsana Valley, Lesoth)

(in the Thune Valley, Botswana)

And in the end, the team was able to determine the first direct dates for rock art in South Africa, which they noted is 5723–4420 cal BP (the Thune Valley, Botswana)

Lastly, the team used cutting-edge chemical techniques to clean the samples to avoid contamination.

Finally, the scientists used ‘a modified acid-base-acid procedure’ that removed any of the radiocarbon contaminants from the pigments.

The team discovered that the Bushman people did use charcoal, but they also found soot and carbon black were in the pigment, two items that helped them date the paintings.

And in the end, the team was able to determine the first direct dates for rock art in South Africa, which they noted is 5723–4420 cal BP.

Posted on; DailyMail>>

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