Archeologists have long been confused by ~40-35 thousand year old artwork, which was both sophisticated, and unique for the time period. A team of Australian and Indonesian scientists spent time analyzing cave art – that was one of the most well-defined moments in human history – in terms of modern humans.
Cave art has long been believed to have originated in Europe. However, the newest research shows that this actually might not be the case. Perhaps one of the most interesting results is that small calcite growths, which contain tiny amounts of uranium provided the perfect clock mechanism for the art.
Analyzing the radioactive decay of the uranium atoms serves as a clock, and afterward, dating the calcite formations – which were found all over the cave paintings through a technique that measures the ratio of uranium and thorium.
While the calcite may not give an exact age, it does give a minimum age. Meaning, the paintings could have happened before this, but they could have happened no sooner since the measure looks at and evaluates the calcite formation.
Utilizing a number like this is a good method for determining age because it provides a base line, to then move from and further analyze. It may not be the best, or most effective method to get a precise age, but it can go a long way to determining things like “period” or what groups of people might have been responsible for the drawings.
As one of the scientists pointed out, this is huge because “Rock art is one of the first indicators of an abstract mind,” and in essence, this shows the beginning of modern humans thought process, and how they functioned.
The same methods have been used to identify other incredibly aged rock art, and most specifically a painting of a red disk at El Castillo, located in Spain is minimally aged 41,000 years.
Science will continue moving in a direction to determine what specific age the cave paintings in Indonesia are, but right now, it would appear as though this will be the beginning of a lot more research in the area of Indonesia and previously considered images, and when they might have actually been created.