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An Improved Pretreatment Protocol for Radiocarbon Dating Black Pigments in San Rock Art

  • A Bonneau (a1) (a2), F Brock (a2), T Higham (a2), D G Pearce (a3) and A M Pollard (a2)...
Abstract

The dating of South African rock art using radiocarbon is a considerable challenge and only 1 direct date has so far been obtained, on black pigments from Sonia's Cave Upper, Boontjieskloof. The main problem with direct dating these paintings is the presence of calcium oxalates behind, on, and within the pigment layers. Calcium oxalates are formed through lichen and bacterial action on the rock face. These reactions can sometimes take place over long periods and can incorporate carbon of a younger age into the pigments. This study aims to date black pigments from a rockshelter, RSA TYN2 (Eastern Cape, South Africa), by removing the calcium oxalate contamination. Two different protocols were tried: density separation and acidification. The latter successfully removed calcium oxalates and was therefore applied to 3 black pigment samples from the rockshelter. After acid pretreatment, accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating was undertaken on the remaining residues. Three results were obtained (2072 ± 28 BP, 2100 ± 40 BP, and 2083 ± 32 BP), which constitute the oldest results so far obtained for direct dates on South African rock art. The most likely calibrated date range for the painting at this site is between 2120 and 1890 cal BP. The ages are in close agreement with each other and this consistency suggests that our preparation protocol has successfully removed the majority of the carbon contaminants.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Corresponding author. Email: adelphine.bonneau@gmail.com.
References
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Radiocarbon
  • ISSN: 0033-8222
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