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The Chauvet-Pont d'Arc Cave is one of the most important sites for the study of the earliest manifestations and development of prehistoric art at the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic. Different dating techniques have been performed thus far (AMS 14C, U/Th TIMS, 36Cl dating) to model the chronological framework of this decorated cave. The cave yielded several large charcoal fragments, which enabled the opportunity for obtaining multiple dates; thus, a First Radiocarbon Intercomparison Program (FIP) was initiated in 2004 using three charcoal pieces. The FIP demonstrated that those cross-dated samples belonged to a time period associated with the first human occupation. One of the statistical interests of an intercomparison program is to reduce the uncertainty on the sample age; thus, to further assess the accuracy of the chronological framework, the Second Intercomparison Program (SIP) involving 10 international 14C laboratories was carried out on two pieces of charcoal found inside two hearth structures of the Galerie des Mégacéros. Each laboratory used its own pretreatment and AMS facilities. In total, 21 and 22 measurements were performed, respectively, which yielded consistent results averaging ∼32 ka BP. Two strategies have currently been developed to identify statistical outliers and to deal with them; both lead to quasi-identical calibrated combined densities. Finally, the new results were compared with those of the FIP, leading to the important conclusion that five different samples from at least three different hearth structures give really tightened temporal densities, associated with one short human occupation in the Galerie des Mégacéros.
The Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement (LSCE) research program on prehistoric art conducts chronological studies of parietal representations with their associated archaeological context. This multidisciplinary approach provides chronological arguments about the creation period of parietal representations. This article presents chronological investigations carried out in several decorated caves in France (La Grande Grotte, Labastide, Lascaux, La Tête-du-Lion, Villars) and Spain (La Garma, Nerja, La Pileta, Urdiales). Several types of organic materials, collected from different areas of the caves close to the walls and in connection with parietal art, were dated to determine the periods of human presence in the cave, a presence that may have been related to artistic activities. These new radiocarbon results range from 33,000–29,000 (La Grande Grotte) to 16,000–14,000 cal BP (Urdiales).
Advances in radiocarbon dating by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) have made it possible to date prehistoric cave paintings by sampling the pigment itself instead of relying on dates derived from miscellaneous prehistoric remains recovered in the vicinity of the paintings. The work at the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement (LSCE) concentrated on prehistoric charcoal cave paintings from southern France and northern Spain. In most caves, pigment samples were collected from several paintings, and in some instances the sample size allowed for multiple independent measurements on the same figure, so that the coherence of the calculated dates could be tested. Before being dated, each specimen was subjected to a thermal treatment preceded by an acid and basic treatment of intensity commensurate with the sample size.
Nine bison drawings from three caves in the Cantabrian region of Spain—two from Covaciella, three from Altamira, and four from El Castillo—were sampled and dated. The 27 dates fell between 13,000 and 14,500 BP, allowing us to attribute the drawings to the Magdalenian period. The 24 dates for 13 drawings in the Cosquer cave indicated two distinct periods of painting activity—one around 28,000 BP and the other around 19,000 BP. The Chauvet cave paintings turned out to be the oldest recorded to date, as five dates fell between 32,000 and 31,000 BP. After discussing the sample preparation protocol in more detail, we will discuss the ages obtained and compare them with other chronological data.
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