Sourcing temper sands in ancient ceramics with U-Pb ages of detrital zircons: A southwest Pacific test case

Clare Tochilin, William R. Dickinson, Matthew W. Felgate, Mark Pecha, Peter Sheppard, Frederick H. Damon, Simon Bickler, George E. Gehrels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations


Through use of methodology common in sedimentary geology, we apply U-Pb ages of detrital zircons to source nonlocal temper sand in an ancient ceramic assemblage recovered from Roviana Lagoon of the New Georgia Group in the Solomon Islands. Most potsherds from the Roviana Lagoon contain local volcanic sand as temper, but a small number of sherds contain anomalous granitic temper sand that does not appear to be local. To determine the origin of the anomalous temper, ages of zircons from the anomalous Roviana sherds are compared with ages of zircons in materials from Lizard Island off the Queensland coast and in sand from Muyuw Island in the Solomon Sea where generically similar granitic sands occur. U-Pb analyses of grains from the Roviana sherds yield Middle Miocene ages, while analyses of grains from Lizard Island granitic bedrock, sand, and local potsherds yield much older Permian-Triassic ages, disproving any possibility that the Roviana sherds were derived from Lizard Island, but suggesting local production of the Lizard Island sherds. Ages of grains in a sand sample from Muyuw Island are nearly identical to the ages of grains in the Roviana sherds. All grains in the Muyuw sand are Middle Miocene in age, overlapping closely with the Roviana age population. This strong similarity in detrital zircon signals indicates that the Roviana temper was likely derived from Muyuw Island sands. Our test case for the use of U-Pb ages of detrital zircons in sourcing temper sands is of only regional significance, and not of intrinsic global interest. The methodology, however, should find wide applicability for sourcing temper sands in many parts of the world, for it provides more specific data for the origins of tempers than either petrographic or chemical analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2583-2591
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Ceramics
  • Detrital zircon
  • Geochronology
  • Temper sand

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology

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