Radiocarbon dating rock art

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Rock art pigments can be contaminated by carbon from plant and animal (particularly human) interference, as well as from the very rocks that they were applied to.Though carbon contamination can be obvious, such as when rock art is vandalized (and subsequently cleaned) by modern people, it can also be very difficult to recognize.Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) allows archeologists to avoid doing much damage to the rock art they wish to date, since it is able to determine the age of very small amounts of charcoal.However, in an effort to keep damage to rock art to a minimum, archeologists sometimes take samples of pigment that are so small they do not contain enough charcoal to date.Most fall within the earliest phase of the Formative period, the Mesilla phase, and others fall within the transitional, or Dona Ana phase, the time of the Hueco Tanks villagers.Another difficulty with radiocarbon dating rock art is the possibility of carbon contamination of the pigment samples submitted for testing.Many Native Americans believe that their ancestors were created here at the beginning of time, but most archaeologists agree that people have lived in Nevada for at least 10,000-12,000 years.

Petroglyphs are made by a reductive process, in which they are cut into the rock by engraving, pecking, incising or abrasion.Very few rock art sites offer thematic indicators of their age, such as the depiction of extinct animals, or the portrayal of diagnostic artifacts which forms the basis for identifying historic period rock art (for example the portrayal of wagons, people wearing cowboy hats and riding horses, etc.).Most sites can not be convincingly dated from a consideration of the imagery represented and so a means of directly dating rock art by scientific methods is the subject of intense research.Determining age and cultural affiliation of rock art at Hueco Tanks is not an exact science.Direct dating of pictographs utilizes samples of organic materials present in the pigments, chiefly charcoal.

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