Current problems in dating palaeolithic cave art

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.

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or Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave is near Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, in the Ardèche département, in southern France.

It became famous in 1994 when Paleolithic artwork was found on the walls. It was occupied by humans at two different times: the Aurignacian and the Gravettian.

Scientific understanding of the origins and early evolution of graphic and plastic imagery underwent a revolution in the 1990s and 2000s with the discovery and dating of Aurignacian (1) wall images in the Grotte Chauvet (2, 3) and the Grotte d’Aldène (4, 5), new ivory sculptures from southwestern Germany (6–14), our understanding of the chronological and cultural context of that early-discovered symbolic record has been limited by the crude archaeological methods and anecdotal descriptions of that pioneering era.

In 2007, we excavated part of the engraved and ocre-stained undersurface of the collapsed rockshelter ceiling from Abri Castanet, Dordogne, France.

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.

This left a smoother and noticeably lighter area upon which the artists worked.

Similarly, a three dimensional quality is achieved by incising or etching about the outlines of certain figures.

There were remains of many animals, some which are now extinct. Most of the artwork dates to the earlier Aurignacian era (30,000 to 32,000 years ago).

Also some footprints of animals and humans were found. The only traces left of the later occupation during the Gravettian include a child's footprints, the charred remains of ancient hearths and carbon smoke stains from torches that lit the caves.

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