Researchers unearth details of 58,000-year-old art studio

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(Photo: Andalusia)
Deep in a cave called Cueva de Ardales in southern Spain are more than 1,000 works of ancient art. An earthquake opened the cave to exploration in 1821, allowing modern humans to gaze upon the animals, handprints and humans painted on the walls for the first time in thousands of years. Despite the cave’s relatively recent accessibility, archaeologists have struggled to determine who exactly was responsible for the art and when each work was added.

Now, radiometric data collected from excavated samples has offered researchers the clues needed to piece together the timeline of the cavernous “art studio.” In 2011, a Spanish-German research team began excavating artwork at the entrance to the cave, where the majority of the workshop’s non-figurative red paintings were found. As of 2018, they had 50 samples on which to perform Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) dating, a modern method of radiocarbon dating known to most effectively measure the half-life of an artifact.

The charcoal-capped stalagmites imply that some humans created DIY stationary lamps to see what they were painting. (Photo: José Ramos-Muñoz et al/PLoS One)

The results of the AMS procedures revealed that the Cueva de Ardales was sporadically occupied, resulting in artistic contribution from humans at two distinct points in history. The 58,000-year-old cave was first enjoyed by Neanderthals during the Middle Paleolithic era, when early humans’ use of fire was finally becoming common. The “anatomically modern” man then rediscovered the cave in the Neolithic period, when man took up agriculture. Archaeologists, including to research was published this week in the journal PLoS One, point out that the cave was not used as a campsite, but rather “visited to carry out non-domestic tasks, such as the production of rock art or the burial of the dead”.

While these non-figurative paintings were found towards the entrance of the cave, paintings depicting humans and animals were found deeper inside, where natural light would not have illuminated the artists’ stone canvases. . The humans responsible for this work appear to have used some of the cave’s stalagmites as stationary lamps, according to charcoal plugs found on some of the stalagmites deep within the cave.

Archaeologists believe there is more art to discover, thanks to parts of the cave left completely untouched by explorers over the past few centuries.

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