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AMS Radiocarbon and Cation-Ratio Dating of Rock Art in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming and Montana

  • Julie E. Francis (a1), Lawrence L. Loendorf (a2) and Ronald I. Dorn (a3)

Abstract

Samples of organic matter and rock varnish from seven rock-art sites in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming and Montana were collected for dating purposes. Petroglyphs sampled include Dinwoody-style figures, shield-bearing warriors, and other well-known Plains rock-art motifs. Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating of 10 petroglyphs yielded dates from the Early Archaic to the Protohistoric periods. A strong numerical relation between varnish leaching and time was found for petroglyphs older than 1,000 years, permitting the derivation of a cation-leaching curve (CLC) and calibrated cation-ratio (CR) ages for 15 different petroglyphs. No clear numerical relation between varnish leaching and time was found for petroglyphs less than 1,000 years old, possibly due to historical damage or past environmental conditions. As a result, calibrated CR ages could not be derived for six petroglyphs, and they are considered to be only younger than 1,000 years. Although further research is needed to establish whether one CLC can be used for all petroglyphs in the region, these studies constitute the first numerical chronology for rock art in the Bighorn area. Results indicate the occurrence of spatially discrete, but temporally concurrent styles in the Bighorn Basin during the last 800-900 years.

Resumen

Muestras de material orgánico y barniz de roca provenientes de siete sitios con petroglifos en la Cuenca de Bighorn en Wyoming y Montana fueron recolectadas para datación. Los petroglifos muestreados incluyen figuras estilo Dinwoody, guerreros con escudo, así como otros motivos artísticos bien conocidos en las Llanuras. La datación de 10 petroglifos en el acelerador de espectrometría de masas (AMS) produjo fechas desde el período Arcaico Temprano hasta el período Protohistórico. Se encontró una fuerte relación numérica entre la pérdida de barniz y la edad de los petroglifos de más de 1000 años de antigüedad, lo que permitió la derivación de una curva de pérdida de cationes (CLC) y de fechas calibradas por proporción de cationes (CR) para 15 diferentes petroglifos. Esta clara relación numérica entre pérdida de barniz y edad no fue detectada en petroglifos de menos de 1.000 años de antigüedad, posiblemente debido a destrucción histórica o condiciones medioambientales pasadas. Por lo tanto, no fue posible derivar edades calibradas por CR para seis petroglifos, los cuales se consideran de menos de 1.000 años de antigüedad. Se necesita más investigación para determinar si una CLC puede ser utilizada para todos los petroglifos de la región; sin embargo, estos estudios constituyen la primera cronología numérica de petroglifos en el área de Bighorn. Los resultados indican la ocurrencia de estilos espacialmente discretos pero temporalmente concurrentes en la Cuenca de Bighorn durante los últimos 800-900 años.

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References

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AMS Radiocarbon and Cation-Ratio Dating of Rock Art in the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming and Montana

  • Julie E. Francis (a1), Lawrence L. Loendorf (a2) and Ronald I. Dorn (a3)

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