Establishing rates of karst landscape evolution in the Tropics

A context for the formation of archaeological sites in western Flores, Indonesia

Kira E. Westaway*, Thomas Sutikna, Michael J. Morwood, Jian Xin Zhao

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Citations (Scopus)


Tropical landscapes evolve at a rapid rate, creating stepped alluvial terraces, dense basin and cone topographies and multilevel cave systems. An understanding of the rate of landscape evolution is crucial for understanding how landscapes respond to tectonic instability and for reconstructing landscapes that have changed over archaeological timescales. The rate of landscape incision as a proxy for karst landscape evolution in Indonesia, a key region in the path of human dispersal, has been established using the rate of karstification - by estimating a chronology for stages of cave development using thermal ionisation mass spectrometry U-series dating on flowstones, and the rate of downcutting - by establishing a chronology for a series of alluvial terraces using red thermoluminescence dating. Using these techniques we have determined that the estimated rate of karstification (113 ± 26 mm ka-1) is slower than the average rate of downcutting (305 ± 24 mm ka-1), and the combined rate of landscape incision (217 ± 18 mm ka-1) is slower than the known rate of tectonic uplift for this region derived from raised coral terraces (450 ± 50 mm ka-1). This suggests that rivers are quicker to respond to tectonic instability, but both cave and river systems display a slower rate of incision and karstification than uplift. Correlations between these components of the landscape system reveal a strong, interacting relationship where defined phases of uplift are reflected in the pattern of karstification and cycles of downcutting. An understanding of this relationship has been pivotal in reconstructing the formation and geomorphic history of archaeological caves such as Liang Bua.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1018-1037
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Quaternary Science
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2010

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