Lipid residues preserved in sheltered bedrock features at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico

  • Tammy Buonasera University of Arizona
Keywords: ground stone, bedrock mortars, cupules, Gila Cliff Dwellings, GC/MS, lipid analysis


[Research Article]

Bedrock features represent various economic, social, and symbolic aspects of past societies, but have historically received little study, particularly in North America. Fortunately, new techniques for analyzing spatial configurations, use-wear, and organic residues are beginning to unlock more of the interpretive potential of these features. Though preliminary in nature, the present study contributes to this trend by documenting an application of lipid analysis to bedrock features in a dry rockshelter. Results of this initial application indicate that bedrock features in dry rockshelters may provide especially favorable conditions for the preservation and interpretation of ancient organic residues. Abundant lipids, comparable to concentrations present in some pottery sherds, were extracted from a bedrock grinding surface at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument and analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Though the lipids were highly oxidized, degradation products indicative of former unsaturated fatty acids were retained. Comparisons to experimentally aged residues, and absence of a known biomarker for maize, indicate that the bulk of the lipids preserved in the milling surface probably derive from processing an oily nut or seed resource, and not from processing maize. Substantially lower amounts of lipids were recovered from a small, blackened cupule. It is hypothesized that some portion of the lipids in the blackened cupule was deposited from condensed smoke of cooking and heating fires in the caves. Potential for the preservation of organic residues in similar sheltered bedrock contexts is discussed, and a practical method for sampling bedrock features in the field is described.

Author Biography

Tammy Buonasera, University of Arizona

Research Associate

School of Anthropology


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How to Cite
Buonasera, T. (2016). Lipid residues preserved in sheltered bedrock features at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, New Mexico. Journal of Lithic Studies, 3(3), 78-101.
Presented at the 1st Meeting of the Association for Ground Stone Tools Research