Lake conditions and detrital sources of Paleolake Olduvai, Tanzania, reconstructed using X-ray Diffraction analysis of cores

McHenry LJ, Kodikara GR, Stanistreet IG, Stollhofen H, Njau JK, Schick K, Toth N (2020)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2020


Book Volume: 556

Article Number: 109855

DOI: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2020.109855


The Olduvai Basin of northern Tanzania contains well-known Pleistocene archaeological sites in a palaeoenvironmental setting of interfingering paleolake and volcanic fan deposits. This study documents the mineral assemblages, as determined qualitatively through bulk X-ray Diffraction (XRD) of systematically sampled lacustrine sediments from Olduvai Gorge Coring Project (OGCP) Cores 1A, 2A, and 3A, from about 45 m below the surface (mbs) to the base of all three cores. This interval includes fluvio-lacustrine sediments below and between two major progradations of Ngorongoro volcanic deposits recorded in Core 2A, and all of Olduvai Bed I and the lower part of Bed II in all three cores. Changes in mineral assemblage track changes in sediment sources and lake water chemistry. Abundant quartz indicates sediment sources derived from eroded Precambrian basement quartzite and gneiss exposures to the west, southwest, and north. In contrast, the presence of anorthoclase feldspar (sometimes associated with minor augite) indicates southerly and easterly sources, derived from the then active volcanoes (Ngorongoro, Olmoti) of the Ngorongoro Volcanic Highlands. The presence and relative abundance of specific zeolites provides information about Paleolake Olduvai's pH conditions and the relative activities of various dissolved cations (K+, Na+, Ca2+, Si) at the time of alteration, and the presence and abundance of authigenic K-feldspar indicates post-depositional exposure to saline-alkaline pore fluids. The mineral assemblages recorded in the cores reveal both large-scale trends in sediment composition over time, and smaller-scale changes related to fluctuating lake levels. In the lacustrine deposits near the base of Core 2A (interval NSF-1), analcime dominates the zeolite assemblage (with minor clinoptilolite), whereas carbonates and authigenic K-feldspar are rare. This interval is followed by more lacustrine deposits in which phillipsite and chabazite are the dominant zeolites (and analcime is absent). Lacustrine deposition was interrupted by the first of two pulses of coarse Ngorongoro volcaniclastic material (NVF-1). In the lacustrine interval between the two Ngorongoro volcanic pulses (NSF-2, recovered only in Core 2A), chabazite and erionite dominate the zeolite assemblage, carbonate and K-feldspar are rare, and analcime is absent, indicating less extreme saline-alkaline conditions and greater Ca2+ availability for zeolite formation. Volcanic glass is preserved, along with abundant zeolites, including phillipsite, chabazite, and erionite, in altered volcanic materials from the upper Ngorongoro volcanic pulse (NVF-2). In the lacustrine deposits of Lower Bed I (below the Bed I basalts but above NVF-2, only recovered in Core 3A), zeolites and K-feldspar are rare to absent, consistent with wetter conditions and fresher lake waters. Carbonates are ubiquitous throughout the lacustrine intervals of Beds I and II. In lacustrine deposits above the Bed I basalts (in Upper Bed I), phillipsite is the dominant zeolite, and quartz is rare. Alternating intervals of zeolite and K-feldspar-rich and poor sediments suggest variations between wetter and drier conditions throughout Upper Bed I and into Lower Bed II. Aragonite and associated dolomite in Bed I during the deposition of a claystone Mg-anomaly points to high magnesium concentrations and elevated Mg2+/Ca2+ ratios during that time. A major change between lowermost Bed II and overlying Bed II lacustrine sediments includes an abrupt increase in quartz coupled with an increase in the zeolite analcime, consistent with the onset of more saline-alkaline conditions, contemporaneous with overall drier conditions.

Authors with CRIS profile

Involved external institutions

How to cite


McHenry, L.J., Kodikara, G.R., Stanistreet, I.G., Stollhofen, H., Njau, J.K., Schick, K., & Toth, N. (2020). Lake conditions and detrital sources of Paleolake Olduvai, Tanzania, reconstructed using X-ray Diffraction analysis of cores. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 556.


McHenry, Lindsay J., et al. "Lake conditions and detrital sources of Paleolake Olduvai, Tanzania, reconstructed using X-ray Diffraction analysis of cores." Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 556 (2020).

BibTeX: Download