More than their actual age, what is important here is that we are now sure of these paintings' dates".The findings could also improve scientists' knowledge of the hunter-gatherer society that produced the art, and of the San culture living in Southern Africa.A lot of research has been successfully conducted about how to interpret this art."Thanks to studies conducted between the 18by the Dutch and British settlers as well as current ethnographic research, we have a good understanding of San rock art.
Until this study, it had been impossible to associate any of the rock art with specific archaeological artefacts found close by.
With the art now more accurately dated, it will be possible to study how potteries and other objects evolved in parallel to rock art."These dates are only the beginning of these investigations, but they open up the possibility of initiating a dialogue between the art of the San and their archaeological remains.
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.
The most common dating method is radiocarbon dating (Carbon-14 dating) but for it to be used, there needs to be traces of carbon in the paintings.
Additionally, where charcoal was used to create paintings, there is always the possibility that the artists used charcoal that had been left over from many years before, so the painting may appear older than it really is.
To increase the chances of AMS radiocarbon dating working, the scientists came up with an innovative and rigorous scientific protocol.
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 identified the oldest paintings documented to date in the region – rock art in Botswana dating from about 5723–4420 cal BP."This is a really novel approach as far as African rock art (and Southern Africa in particular) is concerned, with vastly improved protocols for ensuring the highest quality results.