One of the prints in El Castillo Cave’s Panel of Hands
was created more than 37,300 years ago.
A new study has revealed that Spain’s El Castillo Cave contains the oldest known cave paintings in Europe, with a handprint dating back 37,300 years and a red circle that was daubed onto the wall at least 40,600 years ago.
Instead of testing the paint’s age, a team of British and Spanish researchers measured the age of the stone that had formed around the drawings. In a cave, mineral-rich water drips over the walls, eventually depositing stalactites, stalagmites, and the sheet-like formations called flowstone. Some prehistoric artists had painted over flowstone made out of the mineral calcite, and then water flowed over the paint and deposited even more calcite, leaving the drawings sandwiched between mineral layers. The researchers used uranium-thorium dating to accurately determine the age of the mineral layers and therefore the window when the art itself was created; unlike the similar, more conventional carbon-14 method, uranium-thorium dating gives accurate results without damaging the subject.