Sedimentary Dosimetry for the Saradj-Chuko Grotto: A Cave in a Lava Tube in the North-Central Caucasus, Russia

Methods Protoc. 2020 Feb 26;3(1):20. doi: 10.3390/mps3010020.


Karst caves host most European Paleolithic sites. Near the Eurasian-Arabian Plate convergence in the Caucasus' Lower Chegem Formation, Saradj-Chuko Grotto (SCG), a lava tube, contains 16 geoarchaeologically distinct horizons yielding modern to laminar obsidian-rich Middle Paleolithic (MP) assemblages. Since electron spin resonance (ESR) can date MP teeth with 2-5% uncertainty, 40 sediment samples were analyzed by neutron activation analysis to measure volumetrically averaged sedimentary dose rates. SCG's rhyolitic ignimbrite walls produce very acidic clay-rich conglomeratic silts that retain 16-24 wt% water today. In Layers 6A-6B, the most prolific MP layers, strongly decalcified bones hinder species identification, but large ungulates inhabited deciduous interglacial forests. Unlike in karst caves, most SCG's layers had sedimentary U concentrations > 4 ppm and Th, > 12 ppm, but Layer 6B2 exceeded 20.8 ppm U, and Layer 7, > 5 ppm Th. Such high concentrations emit dose rates averaging ~ 1.9-3.7 mGy/y, but locally up to 4.1-5.0 mGy/y. Within Layer 6, dose rate variations reflect bone occurrence, necessitating that several samples must be geochemically analyzed around each tooth to ensure age accuracy. Coupled with dentinal dose rates up to 3.7-4.5 mGy/y, SCG's maximum datable ages likely averages ~ 500-800 ka.

Keywords: ESR dating; Middle Paleolithic; Saradj-Chuko Grotto (SCG), Russia; lava tube; sedimentary dosimetry.