From dust to varnish: Geochemical constraints on rock varnish formation in the Negev Desert, Israel

Yonaton Goldsmith*, Mordechai Stein, Yehouda Enzel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Chemical compositions of rock varnish from the Negev Desert of Israel and local settled dust were used to constrain the mechanisms of varnish formation and patterns of Mn enrichment and accumulation in the varnish. Rock varnish was sampled from coeval, undisturbed prehistoric flint artifacts along a south-north climatic transect (~30-120. mm/yr of rain). Our analyses indicate that Mn, Ba and Pb in the varnish are significantly enriched (~100×) in respect to the local settling dust and that Mn content systematically fluctuates with depth in the varnish. The varnish and settled dust data combined with basic thermodynamic and kinetic reasoning are used to constrain the following geochemical model of rock varnish formation: dust accumulates in micro-basins on exposed rock surfaces, under pH ~8 (common Negev value) and during wetting by dew and rain, Mn in the dust is mobilized and leached to a depth of ~5. μm under the varnish surface where Hollandite Mn-oxides precipitate and are adsorbed onto and between the porous clay minerals that comprise most of the varnish. During its mobile phase Mn-oxide is negatively charged and adsorbs rare earth elements. Once the solution dries abrasion removes the upper, weakly cemented dust sediment, which contains mainly Si, Al and Fe (which are not mobile at pH ~8). Ca is also removed in large quantities. Mn, Ba, Pb and the REE are deposited at a depth and thus, protected from erosion. Reoccurrences of these processes result in a noticeable accumulation of these elements, but not of Si, Al or Fe. The alternating Mn-rich and Mn-poor laminas form as a result of a competition between the leaching rate of Mn and the adhesion rate of the clay minerals. When moisture is high (low), lamina with high (low) Mn/clay mineral ratio forms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)97-111
Number of pages15
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2014


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