Scientists from several universities and research institutions, such as João Zilhão, ICREA researcher from the Prehistoric Studies and Research Seminar (SERP) of the UB, have published in the journal Science the paper “U-series dating of Palaeolithic art in eleven caves in Spain” in which a new method has been applied to date the cave paintings in eleven cave sites in Cantabria and Asturias. In particular, uranium-series disequilibrium dating has been used to date the formation of calcite deposits overlying or underlying cave paintings and engravings. This technique, quite common in geological research and which circumvents the problems related to carbon dating, indicates that the paintings studied are older than previously thought: at least 20,000 years older. Thus, some of the paintings would extend back at least to 40,800 years ago, that is, to Early Upper Palaeolithic, and it even opens the possibility that this first artistic activity in the European continent was made by Neanderthals or was the result of the interaction between Neanderthals and modern humans.
The study has been carried out in eleven caves in Cantabria and Asturias in exceptional Prehistoric art sites, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Altamira, El Castillo, La Pasiega, Covalanas, El Pendo and Tito Bustillo. It is an international research in which have taken part, together with SERP-UB researchers, experts from the University of Bristol, the National Research Centre on Human Evolution (CENIEH), the University of the Basque Country, the University of Sheffield, the University of Alcalá de Henares, the University of Cantabria, and the National Museum and Research Centre of Altamira.
The SERP, led by professor Josep M. Fullola, is a research group linked to the Chair of Prehistory of the Department of Prehistory, Ancient History and Archaeology of the UB. It was founded in 1986 and since then it has focused on the paleoenvironmental reconstruction and the study of cultural evolution in Prehistory from an interdisciplinary approach.