Hidden Earth 2023

Advancing Archaeological Speleothem Research & Its Future Role In Cave Digs

30 minute Lecture|Jonathan Lester

Advancing Archaeological Speleothem Research & Its Future Role In Cave Digs


Speleothems provide unparalleled and unique insights into localised and regional paleoclimate and paleohydrological conditions on a finely-detailed, precisely dated timescale. Recent research has even revealed their capacity to capture indicators of human occupation through a technique known as fuliginochronology.

This presentation delves into my work on the foundational concepts of fuliginochronology and X-ray fluorescence (XRF), opening the doors to prospective investigations of both paleoenvironments and the imprint of human presence. These methodologies enable the detection of vestiges of past human habitation and cave utilisation, especially in cases where conventional archaeological evidence no longer exists.

Fuliginochronology bridges human indicators with environmental records, harnessing the power of advanced techniques like Raman spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and micro-laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (µLIBS). The analysis of trace elements such as Mg, Ca, and Sr offers valuable paleochemical insights, reflecting historical climate oscillations and thereby providing us with indicators of seasonal cave use patterns.

Beyond its exploratory facets, this presentation also aspires to foster a dialogue about the prospective role of archaeology in cave digs and exploration. By doing so, it aims to pave the way for collaborative efforts between archaeologists and cavers, charting a progressive and constructive course forward.