Southern Africa has numerous Stone Age rock paintings, yet they’ve never been dated properly until now.
A team of scientists recently dated paintings at three sites and found that some of them were around 5700 years old.
The group studies sites in Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho created by the San. The combination of what is depicted in the art and talking to the few remaining San people in these areas gave the team a clear indication of what life was like back then.
But why the long wait for proper carbon dating. Well, it was believed that the compounds used to make the rock art would interfere with the technique used in carbon dating, so researchers had to use a new method that had never been used in Africa.
One of the first discoveries was the recipe for the paint. The San people used charcoal, soot and burnt fat to create their paint. This paint turned out to be very important for getting accurate dates, because the paint would have been made on the very day it was used.
To test the paint, archaeologists removed a tiny sample and tested it for carbon. If carbon was found, the surface compounds were removed so only the paint could be carbon dated.
This method is still in its early stages, but it seems to be a success. There are currently plans to use it on more sites in Southern Africa, which will inevitably lead to a greater understanding of Africa’s history.