Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology

2017 Edition
| Editors: Allan S. Gilbert


  • Alfred G. LathamEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-4409-0_161


The term speleothem is used to cover all secondary chemical deposits in caves and, occasionally, of mines in limestone (karst) terrains. Its etymology is from the Greek “spēlaion” (or cave) and “thema” (or deposit). For a more specialist account of karst and speleology, see Ford and Williams (2007).


Most people are familiar with the commonest forms of speleothems: stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstones. Their main relevance to the archaeology of caves stems from (1) their association with hominin and faunal remains or with artifacts such as stone tools, (2) the continuous records of climate change they contain, and (3) the fact that they can be reliably dated back hundreds of thousands of years and, in some cases, even millions of years. Thus, the dating of speleothems has contributed significantly to constructing a chronology of the stages of human evolution. This is because hominin remains are frequently well preserved in the alkaline environment of caves...

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archaeology, Classics and EgyptologyLiverpool UniversityLiverpoolUK