Trees, chemistry, and prehistory in the American Southwest

Journal of Archaeological Science
By: , and 



At least 200 000 trees were used in the building construction in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, from about (AD) 850-1150. A large portion of these construction timbers were transported 50 km or more and the harvesting location(s) is not known. We argue that a feasible method for determining the wood source areas is to chemically characterize the possible source areas using modern wood and then attempt to match the prehistoric timbers to the modern signatures. This paper establishes the feasibility of this method. ICP-AES was employed to obtain element concentration values for 29 elements, from 62 trees, on three bedrock types. We conclude that it is possible to isolate the variation due to lithology if one controls for wood type (bark, sapwood, heartwood). In addition, ICP-MS was used for the analysis of a small sample of ancient wood. Data from these determinations are presented and the results indicate that the elemental variation is consistent with the most current model of wood use practices in Chaco Canyon. The methods pioneered here should be broadly applicable for determining wood source areas.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Trees, chemistry, and prehistory in the American Southwest
Series title Journal of Archaeological Science
DOI 10.1006/jasc.1998.0315
Volume 26
Issue 2
Year Published 1999
Language English
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Journal of Archaeological Science
First page 185
Last page 203