San rock art dating
Their complete findings are now published in the Journal Antiquity.
Hunter-gatherer rock art in Southern Africa is made up both of paintings and engravings, which were produced by ancient communities associated with the present-day San (bushmen) culture.
They first collected very small painting samples (around 0.5mm2), after requesting the authorisation of the San people who still use the rock art during rituals.
They used these fragments to learn about the paintings' overall composition, to select those with a higher likelihood of being successfully dated.
Paintings were made using mostly black, white, red and orange pigments gathered from the surrounding natural environment.
These exquisite paintings tell stories of yesteryear and teach us more about the mythology, ritual, and beliefs of the San.
For years, archaeologists have known that southern Africa is home to very rich and well-understood rock art produced by hunter-gatherers in the Later Stone Age, but they had been unable to date these creations precisely.
Using an innovative approach, researchers have now come up with new dates, which suggest that in south-eastern Botswana, rock art was created as far back as 5723–4420 cal BP – the oldest such evidence found to date in Southern Africa.
To increase the chances of AMS radiocarbon dating working, the scientists came up with an innovative and rigorous scientific protocol.This often entails taking a piece of the painting out to study it – potentially damaging it."With current dating methods, we need large samples – sometimes hundreds of milligrams of painting – which often means completely destroying these artworks. The most frequently depicted animal is the eland, the largest antelope of the u Khahlamba Drakensberg and vital to the well being of the San, providing meat, fat and skins. Long thought to be merely pictorial journals of hunting trips and everyday life, researchers have now uncovered some of the deeper meaning of the art.