Taphofacies analysis of recent shelly cheniers (beach ridges), northeastern baja california, Mexico

Michal Kowalewski, Karl W. Flessa, Jill A. Aggen

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This report presents the results of taphofacies analyses of shelly cheniers (mollusk-dominated lag-concentrations) from the tidal flats of northeastern Baja California, Mexico. The three generations of moderm (formed during last 70 years), submodem (younger than 1,500 BP), and subfossil (5,000-2,000 BP) cheniers can be distinguished by their position relative to the shoreline, their topography, and the radiocarbon-age of their shells. The generations differ in the duration and complexity of their taphonomic history. Sixty-one samples from nine localities were collected to test the utility of the taphofacies approach for studying chenier-type shell deposits. The three chenier generations, although all dominated by the bivalve mollusk Mulinia coloradoensis, differ significantly in their taxonomic composition due to taphonomic and/or biologic factors. The taphofacies analysis included 4,334 specimens of M. coloradoensis described by nine taphonomic variables. Univariate analysis of those variables indicated that the shells that accumulated in the cheniers are little-affected by biological processes (bioerosion, encrustation), and moderately affected by physical processes (fragmetation, cracking, peeling, edge preservation). Only the luster features of shells (external luster, internal luster, and internal features) vary substantially and consistently with chenier age -a result of subaerial weathering. Multivariate taphofacies analysis discriminates the three generations of cheniers even when the poorly preservable luster variables are excluded from the analysis. This suggests that taphofacies discrimination is possible for fossil cheniers. The shells collected from the chenier surface have substantially poorer preservation than shells from the subsurface, indicating that taphonomic degradation in the chenier plain environment is a surface phenomenon. Chenier plain shelly assemblages are taphonomically distinct from assemblages formed in other marine environments: they have a very low frequency of macroscopically recognizable bioerosion and encrustation. The existence of preservable taphonomic differences between the cheniers that differ in their age (i.e., duration of preburial history), suggests that fossil lag concentrations may be useful in detecting incompleteness gradients along stratigraphic boundaries. A 'taphonomic clock'-a correlation between a 'time-sincedeath' and shell preservation-was found only for luster features, taphonomic attributes that are unlikely to be preserved in the fossil record.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-241
Number of pages33
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1994


  • Baja California (Mexico)
  • Bivalvia (Mollusca)
  • Cheniers (Beach Ridges)
  • Recent
  • Shell Concentrations
  • Taphofacies Analysis
  • Taphonomic Grades
  • Tidal Flats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Stratigraphy
  • Palaeontology


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