Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Sociology and Anthropology

Department name when degree awarded

Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology

Committee Chair(s)

Judson Byrd Finley


Judson Byrd Finley


Tammy Rittenour


David Byers


Rockshelters are capable of preserving excellent environmental records within their sediments. But the matter of interpreting an environmental record from rockshelter sediments presents a significant hurdle in the form of dating. An “age-depth model” is typically used to estimate the age of environmental information extending through the deposit. An age-depth model calculates the changes in time between direct ages (like a radiocarbon age) and can provide an estimated age for any depth. While radiocarbon dating can provide an age for organic remains, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) can provide a direct age on quartz sand deposition and is particularly effective when applied to deposits formed by the wind. This study compares radiocarbon and OSL age-depth models from Last Canyon Cave (LCC) in the Pryor Mountains of south-central Montana. While radiocarbon ages are quite frequently used to construct age-depth models, it is possible they fail to provide accurate ages for the environmental material they aim to date.

I re-evaluated the stratigraphy at LCC and then collected OSL samples as well as samples for grain-size analysis from three different sedimentary exposures. Radiocarbon ages had already been produced for one of the exposures (Kornfeld et al. 2012). The OSL samples were most reliable when analyzed on a single-grain level. After creating age-depth models and collecting the grain-size data, I applied ages to all of the grain-size samples according to each of the three age-depth models. Ultimately, the single-grain OSL proved to be fundamentally different than the radiocarbon age-depth model, thereby challenging the current paleoenvironmental reconstruction of the site (Minckley et al. 2015).

I conclude that the radiocarbon and single-grain OSL age-depth models were not sufficiently similar, and therefore both dating methods should always be used together when investigating deposits in rockshelters in order to understand how they relate to one another and to the site formation. The use of granulometry also proved to be an important part of reconstruction site formation history. Ultimately, both single-grain OSL and granulometry were determined to be essential parts of studying environmental records in sedimentary deposits in rockshelters.



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