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Biogeosciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Biological rock crusts (BRCs) are ubiquitous features of rock surfaces in deserts composed of slow-growing microorganisms. Many BRCs are assumed to be thousands of years old, but precise dating has so far been impossible. Using a combination of archaeological, microbial and geological evidence, we calculated the aga of a BRC from a Byzantine archaeological site in the Central Negev Desert, Israel. The BRC growth rates were estimated at 0.06–0.35 mm 1000 years; faster than previously suggested.
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https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-467
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-467

  08 Jan 2021

08 Jan 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Estimating the growth rate in desert biological rock crusts by integrating archaeological and geological records

Nimrod Wieler1, Tali Erickson Gini2, Osnat Gillor1,, and Roey Angel3, Nimrod Wieler et al.
  • 1Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research, Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Sede Boqer Campus, Israel
  • 2Southern Region, Israel Antiquities Authority, Omer 84965, Israel
  • 3Soil and Water Research Infrastructure and Institute of Soil Biology, Biology Centre CAS, České Budějovice, Czechia
  • These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract. Biological rock crusts (BRCs) are ubiquitous features of rock surfaces in drylands composed of slow-growing microbial assemblages. BRC presence is often correlated with rock weathering, soiling effect, or with mitigating geomorphic processes. However, their development rate has not been quantified. In this work, we characterised and dated BRCs in an arid environment, under natural conditions, by integrating archaeological, microbiological and geological methods. To this end, we sampled rocks from a well-documented Byzantine archaeological site, and the surrounding area located in the Central Negev Desert, Israel. The archaeological, which is dated to the 4th–7th centuries CE, was constructed from two lithologies, limestone and chalk. BRC started developing on the rocks after being carved, and its age should match that of the site. The BRC samples showed mild differences in the microbial community assemblages between the site and its surrounding, irrespective of lithology, and were dominated by Actinobacteria, Cyanobacteria and Proteobacteria. We further measured the BRC thickness, valued at 0.1–0.6 mm thick BRC on the surface of 1700 years old building stone block of about 0.1 square metres. Therefore, a BRC growth rate was estimated, for the first time, to be 0.06–0.35 mm 1000 yr−1. We propose that BRC growth rates could be used as an affordable yet robust dating tool in archaeological sites in arid environments.

Nimrod Wieler et al.

Status: open (until 19 Feb 2021)

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Nimrod Wieler et al.

Nimrod Wieler et al.

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Short summary
Biological rock crusts (BRCs) are ubiquitous features of rock surfaces in deserts composed of slow-growing microorganisms. Many BRCs are assumed to be thousands of years old, but precise dating has so far been impossible. Using a combination of archaeological, microbial and geological evidence, we calculated the aga of a BRC from a Byzantine archaeological site in the Central Negev Desert, Israel. The BRC growth rates were estimated at 0.06–0.35 mm 1000 years; faster than previously suggested.
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