Wax lipids in fresh and charred anatomical parts of the Celtis australis tree: Insights on paleofire interpretation

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Abstract

Leaf waxes have been assumed to be the dominant source of wax delivered to sediment. However, wooden branches and twigs have not been widely considered in this context and could be a potential source of wax lipids in fire places or combustion structures. Black sedimentary layers are the main material of open-air archaeological combustion structures and represent either carbonized fuel (wood) or the charred ground beneath the fire (mainly leaves) and it is difficult to discern between the two sources. To identify different plant parts as components of combustion residues, fresh and charred leaves, branches and twigs (bark and xylem) of the Celtis australis tree were analyzed for aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons and fatty acid concentrations, as well as the carbon isotopic composition of n-alkanes (δ13Calkane). Charred biomass was produced under limited oxygen conditions at 150, 250 (3 and 5 h), 350 and 450 °C for 1 h. The n-alkyl profiles in different parts of C. australis are sufficiently distinct to allow their identification as components of combustion structures under low combustion temperature conditions. Average chain lengths and carbon preference index ratios decrease with increasing temperature and vary among plant parts. The δ13Calkane values remained slightly unaltered up to 350 °C and changed by 3–4‰ at 450 °C. Our results provide new information on the molecular and isotopic changes that occur upon burning different plant parts, which in turn show potential for good preservation of organic matter in archaeological black layers and for positive identification of burned leaf and wood residues in them.

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Jambrina-Enríquez, M., Herrera-Herrera, A. V., & Mallol, C. (2018). Wax lipids in fresh and charred anatomical parts of the Celtis australis tree: Insights on paleofire interpretation. Organic Geochemistry, 122, 147–160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orggeochem.2018.05.017

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