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Geochemical studies on rock varnish and petroglyphs in the Owens and Rose Valleys, California

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Andreae,  Meinrat O.
Multiphase Chemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Andreae,  Tracey W.
Climate Geochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Haug,  Gerald H.
Climate Geochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Jochum,  Klaus Peter
Climate Geochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Stoll,  Brigitte
Climate Geochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Weis,  Ulrike
Climate Geochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Andreae, M. O., Al-Amri, A., Andreae, T. W., Garfinkel, A., Haug, G. H., Jochum, K. P., et al. (2020). Geochemical studies on rock varnish and petroglyphs in the Owens and Rose Valleys, California. PLoS One, 15(8): e0235421. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0235421.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-4F77-C
Abstract
We investigated rock varnish, a thin, manganese- and iron-rich, dark surface crust, on basaltic lava flows and petroglyphs in the Owens and Rose Valleys (California) by portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) and femtosecond laser-ablation inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometry (fs-LA-ICPMS). The major element composition of the varnish was consistent with a mixture of Mn-Fe oxyhydroxides and clay minerals. As expected, it contained elevated concentrations of elements that are typically enriched in rock varnish, e.g., Mn, Pb, Ba, Ce, and Co, but also showed unusually high enrichments in U, Cu, and Th. The rare earth and yttrium (REY) enrichment pattern revealed a very strong positive cerium (Ce) anomaly and distinct negative europium (Eu) and Y anomalies. The light rare earth elements (REE) were much more strongly enriched than the heavy REY. These enrichment patterns are consistent with a formation mechanism by leaching of Mn and trace elements from aeolian dust, reprecipitation of Mn and Fe as oxyhydroxides, and scavenging of trace elements by these oxyhydroxides. We inferred accumulation rates of Mn and Fe in the varnish from their areal densities measured by pXRF and the known ages of some of the lava flow surfaces. The areal densities of Mn and Fe, as well as their accumulation rates, were comparable to our previous results from the desert of Saudi Arabia. There was a moderate dependence of the Mn areal density on the inclination of the rock surfaces, but no relationship to its cardinal orientation. We attempted to use the degree of varnish regrowth on the rock art surfaces as an estimate of their age. While an absolute dating of the petroglyphs was not possible because of the lack of suitable calibration surfaces and a considerable amount of variability, the measured degree of varnish regrowth on the various petroglyphs was consistent with chronologies based on archeological and other archaeometric techniques. In particular, our results suggest that rock art creation in the study area continued over an extended period of time, possibly starting around the Pleistocene/Holocene transition and extending into the last few centuries.