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A new dating method finally is allowing archaeologists to incorporate rock paintings -- some of the most mysterious and personalized remnants of ancient cultures -- into the tapestry of evidence used to study life in prehistoric times.A new dating method finally is allowing archaeologists to incorporate rock paintings — some of the most mysterious and personalized remnants of ancient cultures — into the tapestry of evidence used to study life in prehistoric times. Rowe points out that rock paintings, or pictographs, are among the most difficult archaeological artifacts to date.They lack the high levels of organic material needed to assess a pictograph's age using radiocarbon dating, the standard archaeological technique for more than a half-century.

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That's much less than the several grams of carbon needed with radiocarbon dating.

The research included analyzing pictographs from numerous countries over a span of 15 years.

It validates the method and allows rock painting to join bones, pottery and other artifacts that tell secrets of ancient societies, Rowe said.

"Because of the prior lack of methods for dating rock art, archaeologists had almost completely ignored it before the 1990s," he explained.

In archaeological terminology, there are two categories of dating methods: absolute and relative.

Absolute dating utilizes one or more of a variety of chronometric techniques to produce a computed numerical age, typically with a standard error.

Different researchers have applied a variety of absolute dating methods directly to petroglyphs or to sediments covering them, including AMS (accelerator mass spectrometry) radiocarbon, cation ratio, amino acid racemization, OSL (optically stimulated luminescence), lichenometry, micro-erosion and micro-stratification analysis of patina. These techniques have yielded mixed results in terms of reliability and feasibility, but, in any case, none has been applied to date in Saudi Arabia.

It is hoped that absolute dating will be successfully implemented in the future in this region.

Another way that precise dating can be achieved is if the artist records the actual date of his or her creation, the name of a leader of known reign, or a distinctive historical event, like the inscription shown in the previous chapter about King Yousif Assar Yathar’s invasion of the Najran region in 518 CE.

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