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Concept: Stratigraphy


Highly fragmented and morphologically indistinct fossil bone is common in archaeological and paleontological deposits but unfortunately it is of little use in compiling faunal assemblages. The development of a cost-effective methodology to taxonomically identify bulk bone is therefore a key challenge. Here, an ancient DNA methodology using high-throughput sequencing is developed to survey and analyse thousands of archaeological bones from southwest Australia. Fossils were collectively ground together depending on which of fifteen stratigraphical layers they were excavated from. By generating fifteen synthetic blends of bulk bone powder, each corresponding to a chronologically distinct layer, samples could be collectively analysed in an efficient manner. A diverse range of taxa, including endemic, extirpated and hitherto unrecorded taxa, dating back to c.46,000 years BP was characterized. The method is a novel, cost-effective use for unidentifiable bone fragments and a powerful molecular tool for surveying fossils that otherwise end up on the taxonomic “scrapheap”.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Geology, Identification, Fossil, Paleontology, Georges Cuvier, Stratigraphy


Although a rich record of Pleistocene human-associated archaeological assemblages exists, the scarcity of hominin fossils often impedes the understanding of which hominins occupied a site. Using targeted enrichment of mitochondrial DNA we show that cave sediments represent a rich source of ancient mammalian DNA that often includes traces of hominin DNA, even at sites and in layers where no hominin remains have been discovered. By automation-assisted screening of numerous sediment samples we detect Neandertal DNA in eight archaeological layers from four caves in Eurasia. In Denisova Cave we retrieved Denisovan DNA in a Middle Pleistocene layer near the bottom of the stratigraphy. Our work opens the possibility to detect the presence of hominin groups at sites and in areas where no skeletal remains are found.

Concepts: DNA, Human, Sediment, Fossil, Paleontology, Human evolution, Archaeology, Stratigraphy


The cave infills at Sterkfontein contain one of the richest assemblages of Australopithecus fossils in the world, including the nearly complete skeleton StW 573 (‘Little Foot’) in its lower section, as well as early stone tools in higher sections. However, the chronology of the site remains controversial owing to the complex history of cave infilling. Much of the existing chronology based on uranium-lead dating and palaeomagnetic stratigraphy has recently been called into question by the recognition that dated flowstones fill cavities formed within previously cemented breccias and therefore do not form a stratigraphic sequence. Earlier dating with cosmogenic nuclides suffered a high degree of uncertainty and has been questioned on grounds of sediment reworking. Here we use isochron burial dating with cosmogenic aluminium-26 and beryllium-10 to show that the breccia containing StW 573 did not undergo significant reworking, and that it was deposited 3.67 ± 0.16 million years ago, far earlier than the 2.2 million year flowstones found within it. The skeleton is thus coeval with early Australopithecus afarensis in eastern Africa. We also date the earliest stone tools at Sterkfontein to 2.18 ± 0.21 million years ago, placing them in the Oldowan at a time similar to that found elsewhere in South Africa at Swartkans and Wonderwerk.

Concepts: South Africa, Australopithecus afarensis, Australopithecus, Australopithecus africanus, Stratigraphy, Little Foot, Sterkfontein, Ronald J. Clarke


CO(2) capture and geologic sequestration is one of the most promising options for reducing atmospheric emissions of CO(2). Its viability and long-term safety, which depends on the caprock’s sealing capacity and integrity, is crucial for implementing CO(2) geologic storage on a commercial scale. In terms of risk, CO(2) leakage mechanisms are classified as follows: diffusive loss of dissolved gas through the caprock, leakage through the pore spaces after breakthrough pressure has been exceeded, leakage through faults or fractures, and well leakage. An overview is presented in which the problems relating to CO(2) leakage are defined, dominant factors are considered, and the main results are given for these mechanisms, with the exception of well leakage. The overview includes the properties of the CO(2)-water/brine system, and the hydromechanics, geophysics, and geochemistry of the caprock-fluid system. In regard to leakage processes, leakage through faults or fracture networks can be rapid and catastrophic, whereas diffusive loss is usually low. The review identifies major research gaps and areas in need of additional study in regard to the mechanisms for geologic carbon sequestration and the effects of complicated processes on sealing capacity of caprock under reservoir conditions.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Bone fracture, Fracture, Carbon capture and storage, Stratigraphy


The detailed indoor radon survey was conducted during a year (from September 2012 to August 2013) quarterly in Bonghwa county, one of the provisional radon-prone areas in Korea. The surveyed area was selected on the basis of previously conducted nationwide radon survey results. In order to minimise statistical and environmental uncertainties, ∼3 % of the entire dwellings were carefully selected based on the statistical annual report of Bonghwa county. The measurement is carried out by using solid-state nuclear track detector. The range of indoor radon concentration in each dwelling was 4.36-858 Bq m(-3) and that of annual effective dose due to inhaled radon of the resident in each dwelling was 0.19-23.5 mSv y(-1). Each dwelling was determined for geology criterion using one-way Analysis of Variance for the purpose of comparing indoor radon distribution with geology. Geographical distribution of indoor radon is closely related to the geological characteristics of basement rocks. In addition, the comparison between geographical distribution of indoor radon and terrestrial gamma radiation was done.

Concepts: Ionizing radiation, Earth, Geology, Analysis of variance, House, Background radiation, Effective dose, Stratigraphy


The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) utilises benchmark chronostratigraphies to divide geologic time. The reliability of these records is fundamental to understand past global change. Here we use the most detailed luminescence dating age model yet published to show that the ICS chronology for the Quaternary terrestrial type section at Jingbian, desert marginal Chinese Loess Plateau, is inaccurate. There are large hiatuses and depositional changes expressed across a dynamic gully landform at the site, which demonstrates rapid environmental shifts at the East Asian desert margin. We propose a new independent age model and reconstruct monsoon climate and desert expansion/contraction for the last ~250 ka. Our record demonstrates the dominant influence of ice volume on desert expansion, dust dynamics and sediment preservation, and further shows that East Asian Summer Monsoon (EASM) variation closely matches that of ice volume, but lags insolation by ~5 ka. These observations show that the EASM at the monsoon margin does not respond directly to precessional forcing.

Concepts: China, Erosion, Monsoon, Geomorphology, Loess Plateau, Geologic time scale, Stratigraphy, International Commission on Stratigraphy


Interbasinal stratigraphic correlation provides the foundation for all consequent continental-scale geological and paleontological analyses. Correlation requires synthesis of lithostratigraphic, biostratigraphic and geochronologic data, and must be periodically updated to accord with advances in dating techniques, changing standards for radiometric dates, new stratigraphic concepts, hypotheses, fossil specimens, and field data. Outdated or incorrect correlation exposes geological and paleontological analyses to potential error. The current work presents a high-resolution stratigraphic chart for terrestrial Late Cretaceous units of North America, combining published chronostratigraphic, lithostratigraphic, and biostratigraphic data. 40Ar / 39Ar radiometric dates are newly recalibrated to both current standard and decay constant pairings. Revisions to the stratigraphic placement of most units are slight, but important changes are made to the proposed correlations of the Aguja and Javelina formations, Texas, and recalibration corrections in particular affect the relative age positions of the Belly River Group, Alberta; Judith River Formation, Montana; Kaiparowits Formation, Utah; and Fruitland and Kirtland formations, New Mexico. The stratigraphic ranges of selected clades of dinosaur species are plotted on the chronostratigraphic framework, with some clades comprising short-duration species that do not overlap stratigraphically with preceding or succeeding forms. This is the expected pattern that is produced by an anagenetic mode of evolution, suggesting that true branching (speciation) events were rare and may have geographic significance. The recent hypothesis of intracontinental latitudinal provinciality of dinosaurs is shown to be affected by previous stratigraphic miscorrelation. Rapid stepwise acquisition of display characters in many dinosaur clades, in particular chasmosaurine ceratopsids, suggests that they may be useful for high resolution biostratigraphy.

Concepts: Fossil, Paleontology, Dinosaur, Montana, Biostratigraphy, Stratigraphy, Chronostratigraphy, Lithostratigraphy


Gran Dolina is a cavity infilled by at least 25 m of Pleistocene sediments. This sequence contains the TD6 stratigraphic unit, whose records include around 170 hominin bones that have allowed the definition of a new species, Homo antecessor. This fossil accumulation was studied as a single assemblage and interpreted as a succession of several human home bases. We propose a complete stratigraphic context and sedimentological interpretation for TD6, analyzing the relationships between the sedimentary facies, the clasts and archaeo-palaeontological remains. The TD6 unit has been divided into three sub-units and 13 layers. Nine sedimentary facies have been defined. Hominin remains appear related to three different sedimentary facies: debris flow facies, channel facies and floodplain facies. They show three kinds of distribution: first a group of scattered fossils, then a group with layers of fossils in fluvial facies, and third a group with a layer of fossils in mixed fluvial and gravity flow facies. The results of this work suggest that some of these hominin remains accumulated in the cave by geological processes, coming from the adjacent slope above the cave or the cave entry, as the palaeogeography and sedimentary characteristics of these allochthonous facies suggest.

Concepts: Sediment, Sedimentary rock, Geology, Fossil, Geologic time scale, Sedimentology, Stratigraphy, Facies


We use stone tool refitting to assess palimpsest formation and stratigraphic integrity in the basal units of the Gruta da Oliveira archeo-stratigraphic sequence, layers 15-27, which TL and U-series dating places in late Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 or early MIS 4. As in most karst contexts, the formation of this succession involved multiple and complex phenomena, including subsidence, bioturbation, carnivore activity and runoff as agents of potential post-depositional disturbance. During phases of stabilization, such as represented by layers 15, 21 and 22, the excavated area was inhabited and refits corroborate that post-depositional displacement is negligible. Layers 23-25 and 16-19 correspond to subdivisions that slice thick geological units primarily formed of material derived from the cave’s entrance via slope dynamics. Refit links are consistent with rapid fill-up of the interstitial spaces found in the Karren-like bedrock (for layers 23-25), or left between large boulders after major roof-collapse events (for layers 16-19). Layers 26 (the “Mousterian Cone”) and 27 are a “bottom-of-hourglass” deposit underlying the main sedimentary body; the refits show that this deposit consists of material derived from layers 15-25 that gravitated through fissures open in the sedimentary column above. Layer 20, at the interface between two major stratigraphic ensembles, requires additional analysis. Throughout, we found significant vertical dispersion along the contact between sedimentary fill and cave wall. Given these findings, a preliminary analysis of technological change across the studied sequence organized the lithic assemblages into five ensembles: layer 15; layers 16-19; layer 20; layers 21-22; layers 23-25. The lower ensembles show higher percentages of flint and of the Levallois method. Uniquely at the site, the two upper ensembles feature bifaces and cleavers.

Concepts: Sedimentary rock, Geology, Neanderthal, Paleolithic, Stone Age, Stone tool, Stratigraphy, Biface


Published ages of >50 ka for occupation at Madjedbebe (Malakunanja II) in Australia’s north have kept the site prominent in discussions about the colonisation of Sahul. The site also contains one of the largest stone artefact assemblages in Sahul for this early period. However, the stone artefacts and other important archaeological components of the site have never been described in detail, leading to persistent doubts about its stratigraphic integrity. We report on our analysis of the stone artefacts and faunal and other materials recovered during the 1989 excavations, as well as the stratigraphy and depositional history recorded by the original excavators. We demonstrate that the technology and raw materials of the early assemblage are distinctive from those in the overlying layers. Silcrete and quartzite artefacts are common in the early assemblage, which also includes edge-ground axe fragments and ground haematite. The lower flaked stone assemblage is distinctive, comprising a mix of long convergent flakes, some radial flakes with faceted platforms, and many small thin silcrete flakes that we interpret as thinning flakes. Residue and use-wear analysis indicate occasional grinding of haematite and woodworking, as well as frequent abrading of platform edges on thinning flakes. We conclude that previous claims of extensive displacement of artefacts and post-depositional disturbance may have been overstated. The stone artefacts and stratigraphic details support previous claims for human occupation 50-60 ka and show that human occupation during this time differed from later periods. We discuss the implications of these new data for understanding the first human colonisation of Sahul.

Concepts: Paleontology, Human evolution, Stone, Archaeology, Methods and principles in archaeology, Archaeological section, Stratigraphy, Law of superposition