Reconstructing the sedimentary history of Lezetxiki II cave (Basque Country, northern Iberian Peninsula) using micromorphological analysis

Martin Arriolabengoa
Eneko Iriarte
Arantza Aranburu

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Micromorphological analysis is an invaluable research tool for reconstructing detailed depositional and post-depositional processes of cave infill sequences and for providing paleoenvironmental insight. In this work, we present the results of a micromorphological and mineralogical study of the sedimentary sequence at the Lezetxiki II cave (northern Iberian Peninsula). The cave forms part of the Lezetxiki archaeological complex which has yielded early Middle Palaeolithic tools and archaic human remains. We have identified three main clastic sedimentary processes as being significant at Lezetxiki II: 1) fluviokarst or runoff processes, which are characterised by yellow sandy illite-rich microfacies; 2) infiltration processes, which produce a massive red silty-clay vermiculite-rich microfacies; and 3) inwash processes, which generate a reworked illite and vermiculite rich silty sand microfacies. The most common post-depositional processes observed are calcite precipitation infilling pore spaces, and compression structures derived from specific vertical loading events. In order to improve the chronological framework of the sedimentary sequence at Lezetxiki II, we have revised previous radiometric and relative dating results from faunal and archaeological remains and have dated the lowermost stratigraphic level using single-grain thermally-transferred optically-stimulated luminescence dating. Sedimentation at the Lezetxiki II cave started during Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 7 through fluviokarst processes. We interpreted that runoff prevailed during MIS 6, while soil infiltration processes became more significant towards the MIS 5 optimum. Gradually, inwash processes prevailed over infiltration until the end of the interglacial phase. During the following glacial phases, runoff and erosion dominated but were subsequently replaced by inwash processes during MIS 1.