Disadvantages of relative dating

‘As it formed on top of the painting, it therefore gives you a minimum age of the painting,’ Pike says.

This isn’t ideal, but it’s currently the best tool.

‘We’ve got dates that are tantalisingly close to the point at which modern humans arrived,’ explains Pike. hand stencils to see whether or not dates come out in the period where we know there were only Neanderthals in northern Spain.’The issue of Neanderthal art regularly appears in the media, but is controversial in the academic world.

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However, to discover how tool use relates to human evolution, scientists must be able to date it.

Kalambo Falls is an archaeological site on the border of Zambia and Tanzania with a magnificent tool record.

However, it quickly became clear that something wasn’t quite right.

‘As is always the case, a new dating technique comes along and everyone latches onto it,’ explains Walker.

well, us.‘The great breakthrough in Quaternary archaeology was radiocarbon dating,’ Walker says.

Developed by Willard Libby in the 1940s – and winning him the Nobel prize in chemistry in 1960 – the basic principle of radiocarbon dating is simple: living things exchange carbon with their environment until they die.‘Dating is absolutely crucial, it underpins everything,’ says Michael Walker.Based at the University of Wales Trinity St David, he has devoted his career to studying the Quaternary period – the last 2.6 million years and the so-called ‘age of humans’.Instead, Pike’s team turned to uranium-series dating, another radiometric method.Uranium-238 decays through a series of isotopes to uranium-234, which then itself decays to thorium-230.But when you start looking at when humans behave like humans, it seems that this doesn’t match up with the date.’Although the earliest cave art falls within the timescale of radiocarbon dating, it can’t be used for the paintings that Pike’s team were interested in.

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