Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


Analysis of Culturally Derived Speleothems by INAA and ICP-MS, a Multi-Analytical Approach Public Deposited

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  • Over the last two decades, archaeologists have documented the widespread ancient Maya practice of collecting cave formations (speleothems) from ritually important caves and transporting them to their settlements. Little is known about their specific uses within settlements, but it is hypothesized that these objects convey a degree of sanctity from the caves to the surface settlements. This phenomenon has raised several questions such as the spatial and temporal extent of these interactions, and specifically what the speleothems can tell us about the relationship between Maya polities and proximal or distant caves. This study contributes to the study of Maya cave ritual by assessing whether the provenance or origin of speleothems can be determined from their geochemical composition. Few studies have attempted with limited success the chemical characterization and sourcing of speleothems from geologically diverse regions with INAA and with ICP-MS. This study attempts to determine the applicability of INAA in sourcing a larger sample set from a more homogenous geological setting with samples obtained by the Belize Valley Speleothem Project (BVSP) of central Belize. A total of 104 speleothems from 46 caves were characterized via INAA, and the results utilized to evaluate the Provenance Postulate, i.e., that the between-source differences must exceed within-source variation for sourcing determination to be possible. We compared the chemical variability at three spatial scales: within caves, among caves, and between drainage systems. Analytical results are compared with those from samples procured by the Xibun Archaeological Research Project (XARP) collected along the Sibun River Valley in southeast Cayo and south Belize districts, Central Belize and one samples origination from the Poptun area in northeast Petén, Guatemala. While the BVSP samples derived from multiple caves within the Cayo District in Central Belize, only 15 caves had three or more replicates, making it difficult to adequately assess within-cave variability and explore the provenance postulate meaningfully. However, the combined BSVP and XARP data sets allowed us to explore the variability among four identified drainage systems. Our results indicate that speleothem samples from the Sibun River Basin and Petén are significantly depleted in some trace (i.e.: Mg, Cr, Zn, Sr) and rare earth elements (, Yb, Lu, Eu, Th and U), with concentrations near the limits of detection of INAA. Nonetheless, the extremely low concentrations of certain chemical species are also useful in differentiating homogeneous lithic materials. While it is clear that INAA is an appropriate method to chemically characterized and possibly source speleothems to individual caves, our results indicate that complementary analytical methods such as ICP-MS and INAA would yield far more complete chemical characterization. Our results also emphasize the necessity of learning the complex geological and geochemical constraints of the study area and sample material. Lastly, concise recommendations are put forward in hope of guiding future speleothem of ceramic provenance studies.
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