Effect of fire on phytolith coloration



Dark-colored phytoliths are often found preserved in paleosols and archaeological sediments. Some practitioners believe these darkened phytoliths provide evidence of fire histories, while others suggest alternative reasons for their occurrence. This study examines the effect of fire on phytolith appearance and discusses the extent to which color may be used as proxy evidence for fire. The results of this study demonstrate that under oxidative conditions of openair fire, the color of phytoliths can be altered, although dark-colored phytoliths also occur naturally in some unburned plant species. Despite some overlap observed between burned and unburned color in phytoliths, clear differences are apparent in the way this color appears optically. In particular, transparent and opalescent qualities were found to occur in nature as opposed to a dull opaque appearance of charred phytoliths. Although fire-induced color change is probably limited to a portion of the phytolith assemblage, phytolith color remains a tool that can be confidently used to indicate the presence of fire in various sedimentary contexts. © 2006 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.