17,000-year old cave painting reveals prehistoric trade of scarce mineral

the great bull of lascaux 9Prehistoric peoples of the French Pyrenees may be trading scarce manganese oxide mineral. This is evidence from the bull’s muzzle of a cave painting, with 17,000-year old mineral composition. The ancient painting is the — Great Bull of Lascaux. It is a lithograph in Dordogne, France.

The results of this study were published in the 13th International Conference’s November 2006 edition. The conference was held on X-Ray Absorption Fine Structure. Collaborator and Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) researcher and Faculty Chair Gordon Brown said,

This cave painting is among the world’s oldest and most exquisite. Archeologists have been concerned about the interpretation of this rock art and its pigments since it was discovered.

The researchers had taken microscopic black pigment samples — one from the bull’s ears and another from his muzzle.
With the help of these samples, they identified manganese oxide minerals in the samples by using an X-ray absorption method at SSRL Beamline 11-2 and at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

The absorption spectra revealed an “unanticipated” variety of manganese oxide minerals! It also included a rare occurrence of hausmannite (Mn3O4), which has never been encountered before in prehistoric pigments.

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