A new strategy for analyzing the chronometry of constructed rock features in deserts

Niccole Villa Cerveny, Russell Kaldenberg, Judyth Reed, David S. Whitley, Joseph Simon, Ronald Dorn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The western Great Basin contains thousands of constructed rock features, including rock rings, cairns, and alignments. Unlike subtractive geoglyphs, such as the Nasca Lines of Peru, that remove desert pavement, these surface features alter the location and positioning of cobble- to boulder-sized rocks. The chronology of surface rock features has remained unconstrained by numerical ages because no prior chronometric approach has been able to yield age control. We propose a new strategy for studying these features by analyzing anthropogenic modifications to rock coatings, an approach that permits the use of several dating methods, two of which are assessed here: radiocarbon dating of pedogenic carbonate and rock-varnish microlaminations. Initial results from Searles Valley, eastern California, suggest that constructed rock features may be as old as early Holocene and terminal Pleistocene. Archaeological surveys of desert areas would be greatly enhanced if they noted altered positions of rock coatings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-303
Number of pages23
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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