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Late Pleistocene environments of the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming-Montana, USA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2020

Thomas A. Minckley*
Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, 1000 University Avenue, Laramie, WY82071
Mark Clementz
Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, 1000 University Avenue, Laramie, WY82071
Marcel Kornfeld
Department of Anthropology, University of Wyoming, 1000 University Avenue, Laramie, WY82071
Mary Lou Larson
Department of Anthropology, University of Wyoming, 1000 University Avenue, Laramie, WY82071
Judson B. Finley
Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology, Utah State University, 0730 Old Main Hill Logan, Utah 84322-0730
*Corresponding author at: Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Wyoming, 1000 University Avenue, Laramie, WY82071. E-mail address: (T. Minckley)


Limited numbers of high-resolution records predate the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) making it difficult to quantify the impacts of environmental changes prior to peak glaciation. We examined sediments from Last Canyon Cave in the Pryor Mountains of Montana and Wyoming to construct a >45 ka environmental record from pollen and stable isotope analysis. Artemisia pollen was hyper-abundant at the beginning of the record. Carbon isotope values of bulk organic matter (>40 ka) showed little variation (-25.3 ± 0.4‰) and were consistent with a arid C3 environment, similar to today. After 40 cal ka BP, Artemisia pollen decreased as herbaceous taxa increased toward the LGM. A significant decrease in δ13C values from 40–30 cal ka BP (~1.0‰) established a new baseline (-26.6 ± 0.2‰), suggesting cooler, seasonally wetter conditions prior to the LGM. These conditions persisted until variation in δ13C values increased significantly with post-glacial warming, marked by two spikes in values at 14.4 (-25.2‰) and 13.5 cal ka BP (-25.4‰) before δ13C values dropped to their lowest values (-26.9 ± 0.2‰) at the onset of the Younger Dryas (12.8 ka). These results provide insights into late Pleistocene conditions and ecological change in arid intermontane basins of the Rocky Mountains.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2020

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