Multitechnique dating of earthen irrigation canals at the La Playa site, Sonora, Mexico

Rachel Cajigas, Jay Quade, Tammy Rittenour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


La Playa (SON:F:10:3) is an archaeological site in Sonora, Mexico that contains the remains of an extensive preceramic earthen irrigation canal system. Modern floodplain erosion has destroyed the majority of these canals, but geoarchaeological investigations on areas of the system that remain reveal much about this early agricultural technology. Comprehensive dating using accelerator mass spectrometry 14C on gastropods, charcoal, and soil humates and single-grain optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating on canal sediments revealed that multiple irrigation systems were used at La Playa during at least two periods during the Early Agricultural period (~750–350 B.C. and ~ A.D. 50–250). 14C and OSL age estimates from canals are in agreement with the earliest direct dates on maize from La Playa (A.D. 20–240), indicating that the introduction of maize corresponds to a significant investment in the modification of the floodplain environment for canal irrigation. The late phase of canal use (~A.D. 50–250) occurs before destructive floodplain erosion at the site. This is contemporaneous with local cultural changes, including the development of a new ceramic tradition, changes in burial practices, and changing subsistence strategies. These results demonstrate the utility of the combined 14C and OSL approach for dating ancient earthen canals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)834-855
Number of pages22
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020


  • Early Agricultural period
  • irrigation canals
  • optically stimulated luminescence
  • radiocarbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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