Diagenesis in Prehistoric Caves: the Use of Minerals that Form In Situ to Assess the Completeness of the Archaeological Record

Panagiotis Karkanas
Ofer Bar-Yosef
Paul Goldberg

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An interpretation of the archaeological record, in particular that of a prehistoric cave site, is complicated by the diversity of depositional and post-depositional processes that affect the material deposited. Here we propose to use the authigenic minerals that form in situ within the cave sediments to reconstruct the ancient chemical environments in the sediments. This can be done by experimentally determining the conditions under which each of the authigenic minerals are stable. Although this information is not available to date for minerals formed in a prehistoric cave, we present calculated stability field data for the relevant minerals. The results clearly demonstrate the feasibility of this approach. This information, particularly if based on measurements of real authigenic cave minerals, will facilitate an assessment of the completeness of the cave archaeological record. This is particularly important for determining whether or not the distributions of archaeologically important materials, such as bones, teeth, plant phytoliths, charcoal and ash, reflect their original burial distributions or were altered as a result of secondary diagenetic processes.