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Utah's Canyonlands Rock Art Gallery Younger than Expected

Aug 26, 2014 07:21 AM EDT
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Ancient paintings in the Grand Canyon in Utah are younger than expected, a new study suggests.

According to Utah State University scientists, Barrier Canyon-style paintings crafted on sunset-washed rock were made 1,000 to 2,000 years ago.

"The most accepted hypotheses pointed to the age of these paintings as 2,000 to 4,000 years old or perhaps even 7,000 to 8,000 years old," said Joel Pederson, associate professor in USU's Department of Geology and lead author on the paper, according to a news release.

Steven Simms, a USU anthropologist and co-author on the study, says that the ancient painting technique likely survived for thousands of years and was used by people of different cultures, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The team at USU used luminescence dating techniques. The method narrows the time-frame for the paintings.

Their study also shows that the people who used Barrier Canyon-style to paint the walls of the Grand Canyon co-existed with Fremont people, who are also famous for their painting styles.

"Previous ideas suggested that people different from the Fremont created the paintings because the medium and images are so different," Pederson said in a news release. "This raises a lot of archaeological questions."

It is difficult to estimate the age of Rock Art because rocks rarely contain any organic matter, which makes it impossible for researchers to use standard radiocarbon dating.

USU scientists used optically stimulated luminescence, or OSL to date the paintings. The method determines the time window when the sand grains were last exposed to sunlight. The researchers didn't estimate date of the paintings, but identified a time-frame in which the paintings were made, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

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