Holocene age of the Yuha burial: Direct radiocarbon determinations by accelerator mass spectrometry

T. W. Stafford, A. J.T. Jull, T. H. Zabel, D. J. Donahue, R. C. Duhamel, K. Brendel, C. V. Haynes, J. L. Bischoff, L. A. Payen, R. E. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The view that human populations may not have arrived in the Western Hemisphere before about 12,000 radiocarbon yr BP1,2 has been challenged by claims of much greater antiquity for a small number of archaeological sites and human skeleton samples. One such site is the Homo sapiens sapiens cairn burial excavated in 1971 from the Yuha desert, Imperial County, California3-5. Radiocarbon analysis of caliche coating one of the bones of the skeleton yielded a radiocarbon age of 21,500±1,000 yr BP4, while radiocarbon and uranium series analyses of caliche coating a cairn boulder yielded ages of 22,125±400 and 19,000±3,000 yr BP, respectively5. The late Pleistocene age assignment to the Yuha burial has been challenged by comparing the cultural context of the burial with other cairn burials in the same region6, on the basis of the site's geomorphological context and from radiocarbon analyses of soil caliches. 7,8 In rebuttal, arguments in defence of the original age assignment have been presented9,10 as well as an amino acid racemization analysis on the Yuha skeleton indicating an age of 23,600±2,600 yr BP11. The tandem accelerator mass spectrometer at the University of Arizona has now been used to measure the ratio of 14C/13C in several organic and inorganic fractions of post-cranial bone from the Yuha H. sapiens sapiens skeleton. Isotope ratios from six chemical fractions all yielded radiocarbon ages for the skeleton of less than 4,000 yr BP. These results indicate that the Yuha skeleton is of Holocene age, in agreement with the cultural context of the burial, and in disagreement with the previously assigned Pleistocene age of 19,000-23,000 yr.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)446-447
Number of pages2
Issue number5958
StatePublished - 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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