Unfortunately there are no affordable direct methods for dating pigments, except in some cases as we will see later. Generally, for example, we cant establish when a vermilion stroke was brushed onto a painting, but we can date most of the materials that the pigments are painted on.
How are paintings dated?
Radiocarbon dating has the potential to answer the question of when an artwork was created, by providing a time frame of the material used. In this study we show that with two microsamples (<500 μg), from both the canvas and the paint layer itself, a modern forgery could be identified.
Can you carbon date paint?
For paintings and drawings, this means that we can carbon-date canvas, wood and paper. We can also carbon-date ivory, bone and horn objects. The results are always plus or minus 40 years, which means that there is an 80-year range of accuracy.
Which radioactive element is used to date cave paintings?
The uranium-thorium method involves dating tiny carbonate deposits that have built up on top of the cave paintings. These contain traces of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium, which indicate when the deposits formed – and therefore give a minimum age for whatever lies beneath.