Black carbon traces of human activities in stalagmites from Turkey

Koray Koç, Erdal Koşun, Hai Cheng, Ferdi Demirtaş, R. Lawrence Edwards, Dominik Fleitmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Speleothems are recognized as sensitive recorders of climatic fluctuations in the past and provide precisely dated and highly resolved environmental records. However, their potential as an archaeological archive is not fully acknowledged yet. Here we present several stalagmites containing soot and charcoal layers from various caves in Turkey and provide evidence that these black carbon layers are directly related to human activity. The archaeological artefacts found in Tabak and Kocain caves in SW Turkey support the linkage between soot and charcoal layers existence and human activity in the caves. For this study, we focus on stalagmites from Tabak and Kocain cave. To explore the age and nature of the soot and charcoal layers within stalagmites Ta-9, Ta-10 and Ko-1, Uranium series dating, scanning electron microscope (SEM) and thin section analyses were performed. The episodic soot and charcoal deposition in stalagmites Ta-9 and Ta-10 occurred between 7424 ± 225 yr BP and 6670 ± 218 yr BP while the soot and charcoal layers in stalagmite Ko-1 formed between 2830 ± 189 yr BP and 470 ± 56 yr BP. In combination with the archaeological inventory in Tabak Cave, the soot and charcoal layers within stalagmites Ta-9 and Ta-10 show that the cave was used repeatedly as a burial site during Chalcolithic period. In Kocain Cave was also used repeatedly between the Iron Age and Medieval Period, most likely for ritual activities and for providing animals with water from a small spring in the entrance to the cave. The soot and charcoal layers within stalagmites from Turkey prove that speleothems are also important as archaeological archives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105255
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study is one of the chapters of the first author's PhD thesis (in Turkish) that was completed in April 2019. The authors would like to thank geologists Ceyhun Mert and Yavuz Can Çelik for their great support in the caves. The authors also would like to thank Ministry of Forestry and Water Management of Turkey for permissions and their supports. Finally, the authors would like to Alper Gürbüz for his reviews and comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. This work was supported by The Scientific Research Projects Coordination Unit of Akdeniz University (Project Number: FBA-2015-664).


  • Charcoal
  • Geoarchaeology
  • SW Anatolia
  • Soot
  • Stalagmite
  • Turkey
  • Uranium series dating

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