Rock art: the discovery in a cave in Patagonia

Rock art: the discovery in a cave in Patagonia

Rock art: the discovery in a cave in Patagonia that marks a milestone in research

BUENOS AIRES.- Thousands of years ago, a group of humans began to paint the rocks of a cave in the south of the world with red, yellow, white and black pigments. The designs, especially geometric shapes, accumulated over time. But the precise date on which the drawings were made was unknown until now, when a group of Argentine, Chilean and an American scientists managed to date the cave paintings of the Huenul 1 cave, in Patagonia, after more than a decade of work. Artistic production began there 8,200 years ago, according to research published in the journal Science. The antiquity that archaeologists have managed to establish precedes previous records by several millennia and places the images as the oldest in South America so far directly dated.

“It is a milestone for the records of rock art in South America,” says archaeologist Guadalupe Romero Villanueva, lead author of the research published in Science, one of the great magazines dedicated to science. The milestone, she explains, is having managed to measure the age of the paintings directly by carbon 14. It is a way to establish the temporality of evidence precisely, but it can only be done when the materials found allow it. “These studies are very complex and there are not always good results,” the scientist clarifies.

The archaeologist explains that much of the rock art in the world, on the other hand, is dated relatively. That is, associating a known chronology to other evidence from the same site or related sites. It is a valid way of assigning a temporality, explains Romero Villanueva, but it does not provide exact data. Thus, for example, she estimates the age of paintings such as those found in the Chiribiquete national park, in Colombia, which could be 20,000 years old, according to the specialists who work at this site.
A series of “lucky breaks” accompanied the scientists' work and allowed them to analyze the materials directly and publish the results in Science. “There was enough mass of coal and there were no layers of contamination,” explains Romero Villanueva. According to the four measurements that the archaeologists were able to make, the oldest painting they analyzed dates back to about 7,600 years ago and the other three are dated to about 6,200, 5,600 and 3,000 years ago, according to the data calibrated by the scientists. To further refine this information, the researchers did statistical modeling that allowed them to pinpoint the beginning of artistic production in the cave 8,200 years ago.