Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



Major Professor

Sally P. Horn

Committee Members

Chad S. Lane, Henri Grissino-Mayer


In 1987, Burney and collaborators (Journal of Archaeological Science (1994) 21, 273–281) recovered a ca. 8 m sediment core from the western basin of Laguna Tortuguero, Puerto Rico that spanned the last ca. 7000 calibrated years. They produced a detailed microscopic charcoal record, and from an initial peak in charcoal at ca. 5300 cal yr B.P. suggested that humans had colonized the island some 2000 years earlier than documented by the archaeological evidence then available. In 2008, two sediment cores were recovered from the eastern basin of Laguna Tortuguero. AMS dates on macrofossils indicate the profile extends to 7600 calibrated years, but it includes an interval with missing sediment marked by a layer of shell hash and bracketed by radiocarbon dates of 5144 and 1648 cal yr B.P. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic analyses show evidence for a drastic change in depositional environment following this event. Microscopic charcoal concentrations peak just below and at the contact of the shell hash, with the first of three high-charcoal levels positioned immediately above the date of 5144 cal yr B.P. The microscopic charcoal record appears to support the interpretations of Burney et al. (1994) of human colonization around 5300 cal yr B.P., although the fires recorded in the Laguna Tortuguero sediments may also be driven by regional climate shifts. Desiccation of Laguna Tortuguero, a hurricane or multiple hurricanes, or a tsunami could explain the missing sediments and the large change in depositional environment that occurs above the shell hash. AMS dating of sediment from the mud-water interface at the 2008 core site suggests a possible hard-water effect of ca. 1200 cal yr for dates on the algal gyttja above the shell hash, which if true would mean that the event that deposited the shell hash may have occurred as late as ca. 448 cal yr B.P. (A.D. 1502).

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