The micromorphology of loess-paleosol sequences in central Alaska: A new perspective on soil formation and landscape evolution since the Late Glacial period (c. 16,000 cal yr BP to present)

Jennifer Kielhofer, Christopher Miller, Joshua Reuther, Charles Holmes, Ben Potter, François Lanoë, Julie Esdale, Barbara Crass

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The middle Tanana Valley of central Alaska contains a well-preserved record of human occupation and paleoenvironmental change since the Late Glacial period (c. 16,000 cal yr BP) and is a critical region for understanding human dispersal into the Americas. Micromorphology analysis of soils and sediments from six archaeological sites yields valuable information about soil formation processes and landscape evolution during the Late Glacial and into the Holocene. At the macroscale, site stratigraphies are very similar, and thin organic-rich layers (locally known as “stringers”) are commonly interpreted as buried soils. However, at the microscale, these layers exhibit significant differences in the degree of bioturbation, organic matter humification, and boundary abruptness, indicating that pedogenesis was not the sole process at every site. In this way, our microscale analysis addresses issues of equifinality related to site formation interpretations, a persistent problem with subarctic and high-latitude stratigraphy. Additionally, this study reveals a certain level of landform and landscape instability within a broader trend of regional increases in pedogenesis and vegetation coverage, adding to the existing model of heterogeneity across this subarctic landscape. Here we demonstrate the utility of micromorphology to test field interpretations and improve models of Late Glacial landscape evolution in high-latitude contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)701-728
Number of pages28
JournalGeoarchaeology
Volume35
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • central Alaska
  • Holocene
  • Late Pleistocene
  • loess-paleosol stratigraphy
  • micromorphology
  • subarctic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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