Advertisement

Surface Dating Using Rock Varnish

  • Joan S. Schneider
  • Paul R. Bierman
Part of the Advances in Archaeological and Museum Science book series (AAMS, volume 2)

Abstract

Rock varnish, a dark-colored, magnesium-, iron-, and silica-rich coating that forms on exposed rock surfaces over time, especially in arid and semi-arid regions, has been used as a chronometric dating tool in both archaeology and geology The methods most commonly employed are cation-ratio dating, using differential leaching of cations in the varnish coating, and accelerator mass spectrometry-based radiocarbon dating of organic material contained within or trapped beneath the varnish coating. The premises, supporting assumptions, and limitations involved in using each of these methods for dating archaeological surfaces using rock varnish seriously call into question any chronological conclusions derived from either method. Rock-varnish dates should be considered unreliable at this time.

Keywords

Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Mojave Desert Quaternary Research Cation Ratio 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Adams, J.B., Palmer, F., and Staley, J.T. 1992 Rock weathering in deserts: Mobilization and concentration of ferric Iron by microorganisms. Geomicrobiology Journal 10: 99–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allen, C.C. 1978 Desert varnish of the Sonoran Desert-optical and electron probe microanalysis. Journal of Geology 86: 743–752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bamforth, D.B. 1997 Cation-ratio dating and archaeological research design: Response to Harry. American Antiquity 62(1): 121–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bamforth, D.B. and Dorn, R.I. 1988 On the nature and antiquity of the Manix Lake Industry. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 10(2): 209–226.Google Scholar
  5. Bard, J.C. 1979 The Development of a Patination Dating Technique for Great Basin Petroglyphs Utilizing Neutron Activation and X-ray Fluorescence Analyses. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  6. Beck, C. 1994 Dating in Exposed Surface Contexts. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bednarik, R.G. 1988 Comments. Rock Art Research 5(2): 124–126, 139.Google Scholar
  8. Bednarik, R.G. 1990 Summary of seminar and workshop by R.I. Dorn on geochemical methods for dating of rock art. Australian Rock Art Research Association Newsletter 7: 3.Google Scholar
  9. Bednarik, R.G. 1995 Only time will tell: a review of the methodology of direct rock art dating. Archaeometry 38(1): 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bennyhoff, J.A. and Hughes, R.A. 1987 Shell bead and ornament exchange networks between California and the Western Great Basin. Anthropological Papers of the America Museum of Natural History 64(2).Google Scholar
  11. Bierman, P.R. 1994 Using in-situ produced cosmogenic isotopes to estimate rates of landscape evolution: a review from a geomorphic perspective. Journal of Geophysical Research 99: 13,885–13,896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bierman, P.R. and Gillespie A.R. 1991a Accuracy of rock varnish chemical analyses: Implications for cation ratio dating. Geology 19: 196–199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bierman, P.R. and Gillespie A.R. 1991b Range fires: a significant factor in exposure-age determination and geomorphic surface evolution. Geology 19: 641–644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bierman, P.R. and Gillespie A.R. 1992a Replies to comments on accuracy of rock varnish chemical analyses: Implications for cation ratio dating. Geology 20: 469–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bierman, P.R. and Gillespie A.R. 1992b Reply to comment on range fires: a significant factor in exposure-age determination and geomorphic surface evolution. Geology 20: 283–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Bierman, P.R. and Gillespie A.R. 1994 Evidence suggesting that methods of rock-varnish cation ratio dating are neither comparable nor consistently reliable. Quaternary Research 41: 82–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bierman, P.R. and Gillespie A.R. 1995 Reply to comment on evidence suggesting that methods of rock-varnish cation ratio dating are neither comparable nor consistently reliable. Quaternary Research 43: 274–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Bierman, P., Gillespie, A., Harrington, C., Raymond, R., McFadden, L., and Wells, S. 1992 Throwing rocks. American Scientist 80: 110–112.Google Scholar
  19. Bierman, P.R., Gillespie, A.R., and Kuehner, S. 1991 Precision of rock-varnish chemical analyses and cation-ratio ages. Geology 19: 135–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Bierman, P.R. and Harry, K. 1992 Rock varnish cation-ratios may not be a reliable method for dating lithic artifacts. In Vandiver, P.J., Wheeler, G., and Freestone, I., eds., Material Issues in Art and Archaeology III, Materials Research Society Proceedings 267: 165-178.Google Scholar
  21. Bierman, P. and Turner, J. 1995 10Be and 26Al evidence for exceptionally low rates of Australian bedrock erosion and the likely existence of pre-Pleistocene landscapes. Quaternary Research 44: 378–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Bull, W. 1991 Geomorphic Responses to Climatic Change. New York, Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Cahill, T. 1992 Comment on accuracy of rock varnish chemical analyses: Implications for cation ratio dating. Geology 20: 469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Clarke, J. 1989 Comment on age determinations for rock varnish formation within petroglyphs. Rock Art Research 6(1): 63–65.Google Scholar
  25. Clarkson, P.B. 1992 Absolute Chronometric dates of the Nazca geoglyphs: Applications of radiocarbon dating in the Nazca region, Department of lca, Peru, 1991. Report submitted to the Instituto Nacional de Cultura, Peru.Google Scholar
  26. Clarkson, P.B. 1994 The Cultural insistence of geoglyphs: the Andean and Southwestern phenomena. In Ezzo, J.A. ed., Recent Research Along the Lower Colorado River, pp. 149-177. Technical Series No. 5. Tucson, Statistical Research.Google Scholar
  27. Clarkson, P.B. and Dorn, R.I. 1991 Nuevos datos relativos a la antiquedad de los geoglifos y Pukious de Nazca, Peru. Boletin de Lima 13/78: 33–45.Google Scholar
  28. Clarkson, P.B. and Dorn, R.I. 1995 New Chronometric dates for the Puquios of Nasca, Peru. Latin American Antiquity 6(1): 56–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dethier, D.P., Harrington, C.D., and Aldrich, M.J. 1988 Late Cenozoic rates of erosion in the Western Espanola Basin, New Mexico: Evidence from geologic dating of erosion surfaces. Geological Society of America Bulletin 100: 928–937.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Dillehay, T.D. 1989 Monte Verde, a Late Pleistocene Settlement in Chile. Washington, DC, Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar
  31. Dorn, R.I. 1982 Dating Rock Varnish. M.S. thesis, University of California, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  32. Dorn, R.I. 1983 Cation-ratio Dating: a new rock varnish age determination technique. Quaternary Research 20: 49–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Dorn, R.I. 1988a A Critical Evaluation of Cation-dating of Rock Varnish and Evaluation of its Application to the Yucca Mountain Repository by the Department of Energy and its Subcontractors. Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology.Google Scholar
  34. Dorn, R.I. 1988b A rock varnish interpretation of alluvial-fan development in Death Valley, California. National Geographic Research 4: 56–73.Google Scholar
  35. Dorn, R.I. 1989 Cation-ratio dating of rock varnish: a geographic assessment. Physical Geography 13: 559–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Dorn, R.I. 1992a Comment on accuracy of rock varnish chemical analyses: Implications for cation ratio dating. Geology 20: 470–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Dorn, R.I. 1992b Comment on range fires: a significant factor in exposure-age determination and geomorphic surface evolution. Geology 20: 283–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Dorn, R.I. 1995 Comment on evidence suggesting that methods of rock-varnish cation ratio dating are neither comparable nor consistently reliable. Quaternary Research 43: 272–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Dorn, R.I. 1996 A change of perception. La Pintura 23(2): 10–11.Google Scholar
  40. Dorn, R.I. 1997 Constraining the age of the Côa Valley (Portugal) engravings with radiocarbon dating. Antiquity 71: 105–115.Google Scholar
  41. Dorn, R.I., Bamforth, D., Cahill, T., Dohrenwend, J.C., Turrin, B.D., Donahue, D.J., Jull, A.J.T., Long, A., Macko, M.E., and Weils, E.B. 1986 Cation-ratio and accelerator radiocarbon dating of rock varnish on Mojave artifacts and landform surfaces. Science 231: 830–833.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Dorn, R.I., Cahill, T.A., Eldred, R.A., Gill, T.E., Kushko, B.H., Bach, A.J., and Elliot-Fiske, D.L. 1990 Dating rock varnish by the cation ratio method with PIXE, ICP, and electron microprobe. International Journal of PIXE 1: 157–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Dorn, R.I., Clarkson, P.B., Nobbs, M.F., Loendorf, L.L., and Whitley, D.S. 1992 New approach to the radiocarbon dating of rock varnish, with examples from drylands. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82(1): 136–151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Dorn, R.I. and DeNiro, M.J. 1985 Stable isotope ratios of rock varnish organic matter: a new paleoenvironmental factor. Science 231: 1472–1474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Dorn, R.I. Jull, A.J.T., Donahue, J.D., Linick, T.W., Toolin L.J. 1989 Accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon dating of rock varnish. Geological Society of America Bulletin 101: 1363–1372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Dorn, R.I. and Krinsley, D.H. 1991 Cation leaching sites in rock varnish. Geology 19: 1077–1080.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Dorn, R.I. and Meek, N. 1995 Rapid formation of rock varnish and other rock coatings on slag deposits near Fontana, California. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 20: 547–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Dorn, R.I., Nobbs, M., and Cahill T.A. 1988 Cation-ratio dating of rock engravings from the Olary Province of arid South Australia. Antiquity 62: 681–689.Google Scholar
  49. Dorn, R.I. and Oberlander, T.M. 1982 Rock varnish. Progress in Physical Geography 6: 317–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Dorn, R.I., Tanner, D., Turrin, B.D., and Dohrenwend, J.C. 1987a Cation ratio dating of Quaternary materials in the east-central Mojave Desert, CA. Physical Geography 8: 72–81.Google Scholar
  51. Dorn, R.I., Tanner, D., Turrin, B.D., and Dohrenwend, J.C. 1987b Radiocarbon and cation-ratio ages for rock varnish on Tioga and Tahoe morainal boulders of Pine Creek, Eastern Sierra Nevada, California and their paleoclimatic implications. Quaternary Research 28: 38–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Dorn, R.I. and Whitley, D.S. 1984 Chronometric and relative age determination of petroglyphs in the Western United States. Association of American Geographers Annals 74: 308–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Dragovich, D. 1988 A Preliminary electron probe study of microchemical variations in desert varnish in Western New South Wales, Australia. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 13: 259–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Elvidge, C.D. and Iverson, R.M. 1983 Regeneration of desert pavement and varnish. In Webb, R.H. and Wilshire, H.G. eds., Environmental Effects of Off-Road Vehicles: Impacts and Management in Arid Regions. New York, Springer-Verlag: 225–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Francis, J.E., Loendorf, L.L., and Dorn, R.I. 1993 AMS radiocarbon and cation-ratio dating of rock art in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming and Montana. American Antiquity 58(4): 711–737.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Glazovskiy, A.F. 1985 Rock varnish in the glaciated Pamirs. Data of the Glaciological Studies (Moscow) 54: 136–141.Google Scholar
  57. Harrington, C.D. and Whitney, J.W. 1987 Scanning electron microscope method for rock varnish dating. Geology 15: 967–970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Harrington, C.D. and Whitney, J.W. 1995 Comment on evidence suggesting that methods of rock-varnish cation ratio dating are neither comparable nor consistently reliable. Quaternary Research 43: 268–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Harrington, C.D., Krier, D.J., Raymond, R., and Reneau, S.L. 1991 Barium concentrations in rock varnish: Implications for calibrated rock varnish dating curves. Scanning Microscopy 5: 55–62.Google Scholar
  60. Harry, K. 1995 Cation-ratio dating of varnished artifacts: Testing the assumptions. American Antiquity 60(1): 118–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Harry, K. 1997 Reply to Bamforth. American Antiquity 62(1): 130–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Haynes, C.V. Jr. 1992 Contributions of radiocarbon dating to the geochronology of the peopling of the New World. In R.E. Taylor, A. Long, and R.S. Kra, eds., Radiocarbon After Four Decades: an Interdisciplinary Perspective. New York, Springer-Verlag: 355–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Heizer, R.F. and Baumhoff, M.A. 1962 Prehistoric Rock Art of Nevada and Eastern California. Berkeley, University of California Press.Google Scholar
  64. Jones, C.E. 1991 Characteristics and origin of rock varnish from the hyperarid coastal deserts of Northern Peru. Quaternary Research 35: 116–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Lanteigne, M. 1989 Comment on age determinations for rock varnish formation within petroglyphs. Rock Art Research 6: 145–149.Google Scholar
  66. Lanteigne, M. 1991 Comment on age determinations for rock varnish formation within petroglyphs. Rock Art Research 8: 127–130.Google Scholar
  67. McFadden, L.D., Ritter, J.H., Wells, S.G. 1989 Use of multiparameter relative-age methods for age estimation and correlation of alluvial fan surfaces on a desert pavement, eastern Mojave Desert, California. Quaternary Research 32: 276–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Moratto, M.J. 1984 California Archaeology. Orlando, Academic Press.Google Scholar
  69. Nagy, B., Nagy, L.A., Rigali, M.J., Jones, W.D., Bilodeau, W.K., Krinsley, D.H., Schräm, K.H., and Baker, P.F. 1990 Sedimentological processes affecting the development of rock varnish. Abstract 09137. Geological Society of America Abstracts. Dallas, Geological Society of America.Google Scholar
  70. Nobbs, M. and Dorn, R.I. 1988 Age-determinations for rock varnish formation within petroglyphs: Cation-ratio dating of 24 motifs from the Olary Region of arid South Australia. Rock Art Research 5: 108–146.Google Scholar
  71. Perry, R.S. and J.B. Adams 1978 Desert Varnish: Evidence for the cyclic deposition of Manganese. Nature 276: 489–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Philips, F.M., Zreda, M.G., Smith, S.S., Elmore, D., Kubik, M.W., and Sharma, P. 1990 Cosmogenic Chlorine-36 chronology for glacial deposits at Bloody Canyon, eastern Sierra Nevada. Science 248: 1529–1532.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Pineda, C.A., Peisach, M. and Jacobson, L. 1988 Ion beam analysis for the determination of cation-ratios as a means of dating Southern African rock art. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research 5: 141–142.Google Scholar
  74. Potter, R.M. and Rossman, G.R. 1977 Desert varnish: the Importance of clay minerals. Science 196: 1146–1448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Raymond, R. and Harrington, C.D. 1989 Lithologic controls on rock varnish formation as determined by SEM. In Russell, P.E. ed., Microbeam Analysis. San Francisco, San Francisco Press: 567–570.Google Scholar
  76. Raymond, R. Jr., Reneau, S.L., Harrington, C.D. 1991 Elemental relationships in rock varnish as seen with scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive X-ray elemental line profiling. Scanning Microscopy 5(1): 37–46.Google Scholar
  77. Reneau, S.L. 1993 Manganese accumulations in rock varnish on a desert piedmont, Mojave Desert, California, and application to evaluating varnish development. Quaternary Research 40: 309–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Reneau, S.L., Hagan, R.C., Harrington, C.D., and Raymond, R. 1991 Scanning electron microscopic analysis of rock varnish chemistry for cation-ratio dating: an examination of electron beam penetration depths. Scanning Microscopy 5(1): 47–54.Google Scholar
  79. Reneau, S.L. and Harrington, C.D. 1988 Comment on age determinations for rock varnish formation within petroglyphs. Rock Art Research 5: 141–142.Google Scholar
  80. Reneau, S.L. and Raymond, R. 1991 Cation-ratio dating of rock varnish: Why Does it Work? Geology 16: 937–940.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Reneau, S.L., Raymond, R., and Harrington, C.D. 1992 Elemental relationships in rock varnish stratigraphic layers, Cima Volcanic Field, California: Implications for varnish development and the interpretation of varnish chemistry. American Journal of Science 292: 684–723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Schneider, J.S. 1993 Aboriginal Milling Implement Quarries in Eastern California and Western Arizona: a Behavioral Perspective. Ph.D. dissertation, University of CAlifornia, Riverside.Google Scholar
  83. Schneider, J.S. 1996 Quarrying and production of milling implements at Antelope Hill, Arizona. Journal of Field Archaeology 23: 299–311.Google Scholar
  84. Smith, B.J. and Whaley W.B. 1988 A Note on the characteristics and possible origins of desert varnish from Southeast Morocco. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 13: 251–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Taylor, R.E. 1987 Radiocarbon Dating: an Archaeological Perspective. San Diego, Academic Press.Google Scholar
  86. Taylor, R.E., Haynes, C.V., Jr., and Stuiver, M. 1996 Clovis and Folsom age estimates: Stratigraphie context and radiocarbon calibration. Antiquity 70: 515–525.Google Scholar
  87. Thomas, D.H. 1981 How to classify the projectile points from Monitor Valley, Nevada. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 3(1): 7–43.Google Scholar
  88. Towner, R.H. 1996 Review of dating in exposed and surface contexts. Journal of Field Archaeology 23(3): 396–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Von Werlhof, J. 1995 New dating on Imperial County earthen art. Imperial Valley College Desert Museum Society Newsletter XVIV [sic] (3): 5.Google Scholar
  90. Watchman, A. 1989 Comments on age determinations for rock varnish formation within petroglyphs: Cation-ratio dating of 24 Motifs from the Olary Region. Rock Art Research 6(1): 65–66.Google Scholar
  91. Watchman, A. 1992 Comment on cation-leaching sites in rock varnish. Geology 20: 1050–1051.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Wells, S.G., McFadden, L.D., and Dohrenwend, J.C. 1987 Quaternary climatic changes on geomorphic and pedogenic processes on a desert piedmont, eastern Mojave Desert, California. Quaternary Research 27: 130–146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Wells, S.G., McFadden, L.D., Olinger, C.T., and Poths, J. 1994 Use of cosmogenic 3He to understand desert pavement formation. In McGill, S.F. and Ross, T.M., eds., Geological Investigations of an Active Margin, Geological Society of America, Cordilleran Section Guidebook. Redlands, San Bernardino County Museum Association: 201-205.Google Scholar
  94. Whitley, D.S. and Dorn, R.I. 1993 New perspectives on the Clovis vs. pre-Clovis controversy. American Antiquity 58(4): 626–609.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Whitney, J.W and Harrington, C.D. 1993 Relict colluvial boulder deposits as paleoclimatic indicators in the Yucca Mountain Region, southern Nevada. Geological Society of America Bulletin 105: 1008–1018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joan S. Schneider
    • 1
  • Paul R. Bierman
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CaliforniaRiversideUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeologyUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations