Onset of dune construction based on archaeological evidence, White Sands, New Mexico

Vance T. Holliday, Matthew Cuba, Wayne Lee, Jason Windingstad, Brendan Fenerty, David Bustos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The White Sands dune field is the largest gypsum dune system in the world, derived from deflation of paleo-Lake Otero deposits. Understanding the timing of initial dune construction, and therefore lake deflation, is critical for understanding regional landscape evolution, including the history of lake desiccation. The onset of dune construction is currently estimated at ~8000 to 6500 cal yr BP, but numerical age control is limited. Archaeological evidence reported here indicates two older phases of gypsum dune construction. An archaeological site draped over a parabolic dune south of the main dune body contains artifacts dating to >12,200 cal yr BP, providing an upper age limit for the landform. Another site buried within a remnant of the main dune field yielded six statistically identical radiocarbon dates averaging ~8770 cal yr BP. The initial phase of terminal Pleistocene deflation and parabolic dune construction was perhaps localized but correlates with a period of regional aridity. Barchans and crescentic ridges comprising the main dune body developed in the Early Holocene in response to elevated salinity in local ground water and extensive exposures of gypsum available for deflation, likely due to aridity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)58-66
Number of pages9
JournalQuaternary Research (United States)
StatePublished - Sep 19 2023


  • Early Archaic
  • Folsom
  • Plainview
  • White Sands
  • gypsum dunes
  • paleo-Lake Otero

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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