High-intensity geomagnetic field 'spike' observed at ca. 3000 cal BP in Texas, USA

Mark D. Bourne, Joshua M. Feinberg, Thomas W. Stafford, Michael R. Waters, Ernest Lundelius, Steven L. Forman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


By observing the fluctuations in direction and intensity of the Earth's magnetic field through time, we increase our understanding of the fluid motions of the Earth's outer core that sustain the geomagnetic field, the geodynamo. Recent archaeomagnetic studies in the Near East have found extremely rapid increases - 'spikes' - in geomagnetic field intensity at ca. 3000 yr cal BP. These observations have proved problematic for our current understanding of core-flow. However, until now, these geomagnetic spikes had not been observed outside of the Near East, where they have been preserved in metallurgical slag and fired, mud brick walls.We present a new, fully oriented, geomagnetic secular variation and relative palaeointensity (RPI) record for the last 17,000 yr from Hall's Cave, Texas, whose complete, >3.8 m thick sedimentary sequence spans from the present to 16, 850. ±. 110 RC yr BP (Modern to 20,600 cal BP). Within the stable, cool climate of the cave, pedogenic and bioturbation processes are negligible to non-existent, thereby limiting post-depositional physical and geochemical alteration of the magnetic record. The sub-aerial and subterranean setting of the sedimentary sequence in Hall's Cave enabled us to collect oriented palaeomagnetic cubes from a previously excavated stratigraphic section.The palaeomagnetic samples yielded high-quality vectors. An age model for the sequence, determined using 15 AMS 14C-dates on individual bones from microvertebrates, was combined with the palaeomagnetic data to construct a secular variation record. The record is in broad agreement with predictions by Holocene field models for the site's location. However, starting ca. 3000 yr ago, the RPI data indicate an almost four-fold increase in geomagnetic field intensity lasting several hundred years. This record presents well-dated evidence, obtained using conventional techniques, for the existence of a geomagnetic intensity spike in North America that is contemporaneous with the shorter duration, decadal-scale spikes reported from the Near East.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-92
Number of pages13
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - May 15 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are very grateful to the Lee and Fran Hall of Hall Ranch, Kerrville, Texas for kindly allowing us to access Hall's Cave and assisting us with field logistics. We would like to thank Cor Langereis for a constructive and helpful review. This research was supported by the North Star Archaeological Research Program established by Joe and Ruth Cramer at the Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University; NSF grant EAR-1316385 to JMF; and by support of the IRM by the NSF/EAR Instruments and Facilities program. This is IRM contribution # 1602 .


  • Cave sediments
  • Geodynamo
  • Geomagnetic spike
  • Paleomagnetism
  • Relative paleointensity
  • Secular variation

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