Deciphering complex soil/site formation in sands

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This paper summarizes aspects of the geoarchaeological research at two adjacent multi-component archaeological sites, 13JP86 and 13JP87, along Indian Creek in central Iowa, USA. The sites, both recently salvaged but now destroyed, formed in late Pleistocene sands reworked from glacial sediments that emanated from the wasting Des Moines Lobe glacier some 13,000–14,000 years ago. The soils contained shallowly dispersed and mixed artifacts that span the Paleoindian-to-historic cultural spectrum.

In open areas, as at Indian Creek, site formation processes equate to natural soil genetic processes, plus human imprints. Cultural materials, once deposited, become part of the soil and subject to dynamic soil processes. These soils had reasonably well expressed Ap, A, and E horizons that collectively formed thick one-layered biomantles, underlain by well expressed argillic Bt horizons. The biomantles had been well bioturbated, deeply in some pedons, but still exhibited organized A and E horizons. The Bt horizons were also bioturbated, though less so, and consisted of multiple thin to thick sandy clay bands, termed illuvial clay lamellae (icl's). The icl's contained modest to appreciable amounts of illuvial clay as bridges between grains, and as diffuse splotches and blebs separated by less clayey, E horizon-like interlamellar sandy zones. Deeper and less bioturbated E-like sandy zones had accumulated so much clay that they had coalesced with icl's into thick, complexly banded argillic Bt horizons. The process histories of the sandy pedons were obviously extremely complex.

The geoarchaeological aspects of the project, which were mainly complex pedologic ones, were largely interpreted by drawing on the genetic principles of dynamic denudation to explain soil/site evolution. Many questions were raised, and most were answered under these principles. New concepts and perspectives were gained in this study, and the resulting interpretive scenarios carry explanatory implications for sandy soils everywhere, whether charged with cultural materials or not.


Illuvial clay lamellae, Process vector analysis, Bioturbation, Biomantle, Dynamic denudation, Biofabric

Published Article/Book Citation

Geomorphology, 101:3 (2008) pp.484-496.

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