Cation-ratio dating: A new rock varnish age-determination technique

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89 Scopus citations


Rock varnish coats many surfaces of geomorphic and archaeologic interest in arid lands. All varnish dating techniques are limited by the time lag between the exposure of a surface to subaerial processes and the onset of varnishing. They are valid only where manganese is not remobilized after deposition, for example, in most arid environments. The premise of a new age-determination method, cation-ratio dating, is that the ratio of the more mobile cations (e.g., K and Ca) to titanium in varnish decreases with time. Although there are many inherent assumptions and potential limitations, cation-ratio dating has been verified on relative age-sequences from a Death Valley debris cone, Negev Desert talus flatirons, and prehistoric lake levels at Searles Lake in California. Varnish cation ratios have been calibrated to independently dated surfaces in the Coso volcanic field and vicinity in California. Tentative absolute dates have been assigned to geomorphic surfaces in the Coso area. Cation ratios have been used to distinguish relative ages of archaeologic artifacts in southwestern North America and to demonstrate that varnish at the South Stoddard locality, Mojave Desert, did not form in 25 yr.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-73
Number of pages25
JournalQuaternary Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1983
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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