Scientists have discovered the earliest rock art paintings in southern Africa, dating back to about 5,000 years, that include scenes of fish and human figures drawn on the walls of natural caves. Researchers used a novel technique to isolate the paint fragments before dating them, as well as 13 other fragments from rock art sites across southern Africa, including in Lesotho and South Africa. The new method "has given us the first really solid dates for the antiquity of surviving rock shelter art in southern Africa," said Adelphine Bonneau, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Quebec in Canada. The San or bushmen are native to southern Africa, and have some of the best-understood rock art traditions in the world, Bonneau said.
However, the paint recipes and the ages of these paintings were less well-known, she said. Dating rock art requires removing a chip of the paint as well as the original carbon from the painting. Wind, rain, and pollution, as well as plant, and animal interference can harm rock art, making whatever is left difficult to date. Researchers developed a protocol that identified all of the sources of carbon within each painting, removed the carbons unrelated to the painting, and then dated the painting's original carbon, the 'Live Science' reported. Their results showed that the San people painted with three materials: charcoal, soot and carbon black (a mixture made of burnt fat), and the latter two provided reliable dates of when the paintings were made. The study was published in the journal Antiquity.
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