A cave in Patagonia houses the oldest known pigment-based rock art in South America.
© GRVExamples of some of the rock art found inside a cave in Patagonia.
A gallery's worth of rock art decorating the inside of a cave in Argentina is several millennia older than once thought
and contains hundreds of drawings that span 100 generations.
At one time, archaeologists dated the art — located in Patagonia, a region in South America's southern tip — as being only several thousand years old. But a new analysis has revealed that some of the works actually date to as early as 8,200 years ago and were created during the late Holocene epoch (11,700 years ago to present),
according to a study published Wednesday (Feb. 14) in the journal Science Advances.
"It turned out to be several millennia older than we expected," study lead author Guadalupe Romero Villanueva
, an archaeologist with the Argentine National Research Council (CONICET) and the National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought (INAPL), told Live Science. "We got surprised."
To determine the date of the massive artwork, which depicts humans, animals and other designs, archaeologists chipped away several small pieces of black pigment from the drawings. Since the pigment was made from plant material, researchers used radiocarbon dating
to determine the age of the cave art.
"It's usually really hard to date rock art unless it has an organic component, otherwise there really isn't any material that you can date," study co-author Ramiro Barberena
, an archeologist at Temuco Catholic University in Chile and CONICET, told Live Science. "[The cave] is not the oldest occupation in South America, but it is the oldest directly radiocarbon-dated pigment-based rock art in South America."