Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 83–99 | Cite as

An ~11,200 year paleolimnological perspective for emerging archaeological findings at Quartz Lake, Alaska

  • Matthew J. Wooller
  • Joshua Kurek
  • Benjamin V. Gaglioti
  • Les C. Cwynar
  • Nancy Bigelow
  • Joshua D. Reuther
  • Carol Gelvin-Reymiller
  • John P. Smol
Original paper


Wetlands and lakes in the Tanana Valley, Alaska, have provided important resources for prehistoric humans who inhabited this region. We examine an ~11,200 cal yr BP record of environmental and paleolimnological changes from Quartz Lake in the middle Tanana Valley. Our data are also presented in the context of recent archaeological findings in the lake’s general vicinity that have 18 associated AMS 14C dates. We analyzed the stable-carbon and nitrogen isotope composition of total organic matter from the core, coupled with oxygen and carbon isotope analyses of Pisidiidae shells (fingernail clams), in addition to chironomid assemblage changes. Lacustrine sediments began to accumulate at ~11,200 cal yr BP. Initially, autochthonous production was low and allochthonous organic input was negligible between 11,000 and 10,500 cal yr BP, and were associated with relatively cool conditions at Quartz Lake at ~10,700 cal yr BP. After 10,500 cal yr BP, autochthonous production was higher coincident with a shift to chironomid assemblages dominated by taxa associated with warmer summer climates. A decrease in δ13C values of total organic carbon (TOC) and organic content of the sediment between 9,000 and 4,000 cal yr BP may indicate declining autochthonous primary production. This period ended with an abrupt (~7 ‰) decrease in the δ18O values from Pisidiidae shells at ~3,000 cal yr BP, which we hypothesize represented an episodic connection (flood) of the lake with flow from the nearby (~6 km) Tanana River. Our findings coincide with evidence for major flooding at other locations connected to the Tanana River and further afield in Alaska. From ~3,000 cal yr BP Quartz Lake subsequently appeared to become a relatively closed system, as indicated by the δ18OPisidiidae and δ13CPisidiidae data that are positively correlated and generally higher, which also correlates with a shift to moderately higher abundances of littoral chironomids. The cause of the transition to closed-basin conditions may have been geomorphic rather than climatic. This evidence of a progressively stronger evaporative influence on the lake’s closed hydrology after ~3,000 cal yr BP is consistent with our modern δ18O and δD water data from Quartz Lake that plot along a regional evaporative line we base on isotopic measurements from other local lakes and rivers.


Oxygen isotopes Carbon isotopes Pisidiidae Chironomids Paleotemperature 



This work was partially supported by funding from the US Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory (Grant DE-NT000565) and US National Science Foundation (Grant ARC-0909523) awarded to Wooller. We also acknowledge financial support of Cwynar, Kurek and Smol from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. We thank Dave Klein, Tom Ager, Sean Brennan, Mandy Booth, and Ben Potter for discussions and field assistance. We thank three anonymous reviewers and Darrell Kaufman for their helpful suggestions on an earlier draft.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew J. Wooller
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Joshua Kurek
    • 4
  • Benjamin V. Gaglioti
    • 1
    • 5
  • Les C. Cwynar
    • 6
  • Nancy Bigelow
    • 3
  • Joshua D. Reuther
    • 7
  • Carol Gelvin-Reymiller
    • 8
  • John P. Smol
    • 4
  1. 1.Water and Environmental Research CenterUniversity of AlaskaFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Institute of Marine ScienceUniversity of AlaskaFairbanksUSA
  3. 3.Alaska Quaternary CenterUniversity of AlaskaFairbanksUSA
  4. 4.Paleoecological Environmental Assessment and Research Lab (PEARL), Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada
  5. 5.Geography ProgramAlaska Science Center, US Geological SurveyAnchorageUSA
  6. 6.Department of BiologyUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada
  7. 7.School of AnthropologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  8. 8.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AlaskaFairbanksUSA

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