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Until this study, it had been impossible to associate any of the rock art with specific archaeological artefacts found close by.

With the art now more accurately dated, it will be possible to study how potteries and other objects evolved in parallel to rock art."These dates are only the beginning of these investigations, but they open up the possibility of initiating a dialogue between the art of the San and their archaeological remains.

By collecting samples of paint, researchers were able to identify the types of carbons in the pigments and ultimately date them as more than 5,000 years old – deeming the drawings the ‘earliest directly dated’ paintings in the region‘Research over the past 40 years has shown that the art is most productively and comprehensively explained as the material expression of the powers of ritual specialists (shamans) and of the wider cosmology within which those powers were exercised, often in altered states of consciousness,' reads the study publish in the Journal Antiquity.

And this Later Stone Age Bushmen artwork has influenced rock art study around the globe.

The rock art in questions is located at 14 sites in three different regions of Southern Africa: the Thune Dam, Botswana, the Phuthiatsana Valley, Lesotho and the Maclear District in South Africa.

For years, experts have known the meanings behind the ancient images, but have been unable to determine when they were created.

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The findings could also improve scientists' knowledge of the hunter-gatherer society that produced the art, and of the San culture living in Southern Africa.By collecting samples of paint, researchers were able to identify the types of carbons in the pigments and ultimately date them as more than 5,000 years old – deeming the drawings the ‘earliest directly dated’ paintings in the region.The team used a technique known as accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating, which is similar to traditional radiocarbon data, but analyzes smaller fragments instead of the complete artifact.Elsewhere, archaeologists have only been able to set very broad time constraints.The authors of this study have, for the first time, attempted to date southern African rock art with a technique known as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating.They identified the oldest paintings documented to date in the region – rock art in Botswana dating from about 5723–4420 cal BP."This is a really novel approach as far as African rock art (and Southern Africa in particular) is concerned, with vastly improved protocols for ensuring the highest quality results.The techniques developed have potential to be used elsewhere in the world.They used these fragments to learn about the paintings' overall composition, to select those with a higher likelihood of being successfully dated.It also allowed them to identify paintings made up of carbon derived from short-lived organic materials rather than from charcoal, to avoid the issue that the charcoal used in paint may be significantly older than the painting event itself.All of these obstacle have made it hard to establish precise dates for rock art found in Southern Africa.Paintings in the Apollo 11 cave in Namibia have been dated to 25,000 years ago, but these results are highly controversial.

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