Recent Developments in Radiocarbon and Stylistic Methods of Dating Rock-Art

By Rosenfeld, Andree; Smith, Claire | Antiquity, June 1997 | Go to article overview

Recent Developments in Radiocarbon and Stylistic Methods of Dating Rock-Art


Rosenfeld, Andree, Smith, Claire, Antiquity


Introduction

Recent debate over the age of the rock-art of the Coa Valley, Portugal, has treated radiocarbon and stylistic approaches to rock-art dating as opposed. Several methods for 'directly' dating rock-art applied to the Coa rock engravings have yielded Holocene dates that are at odds with the Palaeolithic dates obtained by European researchers using established, stylistic methods (see Bednarik 1995a; 1995b; Watchman 1995; 1996), and European archaeologists are rejecting these direct dates (e.g. Clottes et al. 1995; Reevell 1995; Simoes de Abreu & Jaffe 1995; Zilhao 1995a; 1995b; Zuchner 1995). Here classic, stylistic methods have come into open - and extended conflict with the more recently developed radiocarbon methods. This apparent conflict demands an evaluation of the advantages and the limitations of both methods, as well as consideration of the rather different temporal information that each provides.

Radiocarbon methods

Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbon dating enables the ages of extremely small samples of organic matter to be calculated. The possibility of dating of organic material in rock-art pigments by AMS was realized in the early 1980s (e.g. Van der Merwe 1982) and the first results came a few years later (e.g. Hedges et al. 1987; Van der Merwe et al. 1987; Loy et al. 1990; McDonald et al. 1990).

AMS radiocarbon dating was greeted with enthusiasm by rock-art researchers for it promised dates of greater precision and more importantly dates from very small samples from a great range of materials (Rosenfeld in press). Radiocarbon determination has since been applied to charcoal paintings (e.g. McDonald et al. 1990; David 1992; Chaffe et al. 1993; Clottes & Courtin 1993), to organic extracts from ochre paintings (Loy et al. 1990; Cole & Watchman 1992; David et al. 1993), to beeswax figures on rock (Nelson et al. 1993; 1995; Tacon et al. in press), to rock-surface accretions such as oxalate crusts (Watchman 1991; 1993; Cole et al. 1995; Cole in press) and to organic inclusions in siliceous skins (Watchman 1992; 1994) and in 'desert varnish' (Nobbs in press). For the first time, there has emerged the possibility of comparing radiocarbon-dated rock-art sequences with radiocarbon dates for other archaeological evidence (cf. Morwood & Smith 1994: 24).

Nevertheless, recent research has identified problems with radiocarbon dating of rock-art. Perhaps the most serious concerns the source of the carbon extracted for dating. While paints may have contained organic components, the problem of distinguishing organic material associated with rock-art production from other sources on the rock face remains. For example, McDonald et al. (1990) obtained inconsistent radiocarbon dates, ranging from 6085 b.p. to 29,795 b.p. from charcoal taken from the same motif at a rock-art site in the Sydney Basin, Australia. When this project was extended to include multiple sampled motifs from an additional three sites, all multiple sampled motifs returned age determinations that differ from each other by more than one standard deviation (McDonald in press: table 3).

A likely cause of this inconsistency is contamination by organic carbon from sources other than that associated with the painting event. The many potential sources of contamination include naturally occurring organisms on the rock face, such as algae, lichen, fungi, bacteria and others (see Watchman & Cole 1993; Ridges et al. in press). Remains of these can both predate and post-date the painting event and may be incorporated in unknown proportions in paint or in surface skins associated with paint. Contamination can also occur from deposits of inorganic carbonates, sometimes present as evaporites on rock surfaces, and from charcoal-bearing dust on the rock surface. Contamination can even be introduced during sample extraction and preparation (Armitage et al. in press; Campbell in press; Hotchkis et al. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Recent Developments in Radiocarbon and Stylistic Methods of Dating Rock-Art
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.