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Nerja cave paintings - how old are they really?


New round of age tests could resolve debate on whether they were created by man or Neanderthal
A NEW study into the age of the paintings in the Nerja caves is to be made in August. For the first time, they will be examined using uranium-thorium dating which allows the analysis of inorganic sediments.
Radio-carbon techniques used previously can only be used on organic material and become less reliable on specimens more than 40,000 years old. The new test involves taking samples of the calcite film which lies on the surface of the paintings, so avoiding damaging them, and will provide an accurate dating as far back as 80,000 years.
The Caves Foundation said last week that the study was the culmination of two major projects: the multidisciplinary research project by the Junta de Andalucía which began in 2008, and the work of the French Culture Ministry, which is undertaking such research in a number of different cave sites. French and Spanish researchers, led by project director José Luis Sanchidrián from the University of Córdoba, will take 20 samples from Nerja's 596 cave paintings.
A team of British researchers recently used this method for dating paintings in caves in northern Spain, including Altamira, which revealed them to be more than 35,600 years old.

By Dave Jamieson

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