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



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 bouldersized 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. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.