Mazama tephra is a widespread mid-Holocene stratigraphic marker, dating to ca. 6845 BP, and is considered useful for the correlation of Holocene events in western North America. We present evidence from Copper Lake, Alberta, for a tephra layer that underlies Mazama tephra and appears to be a discrete tephra layer but that is indistinguishable from the conventional Mazama tephra by microprobe analysis of glass shards. Three alternative hypotheses are considered to explain this tephra underlying Mazama: in situ position of an earlier Mazama-like tephra, recycling of tephras, and settling of tephra slabs through the gyttja. The size distributions of birch pollen grains indicate that the Mazama-like tephra is in primary stratigraphic position in the early Holocene gyttja, and that sediment recycling has not destroyed the integrity of Copper Lake sediment stratigraphy. It is concluded that most probably a Mazama-like tephra was deposited between 9700 and 10 500 BP. If this in situ hypothesis is correct, the identification of a tephra as Mazama by major-element chemistry does not necessarily fix the age of the enclosing strata. Evidence to confirm the existence and plot the distribution of a Late Pleistocene – early Holocene, Mazama-like tephra is needed from other sites in northwestern America. A collateral result of this study is that ablation of valley-bottom ice in the vicinity of Castle Mountain took place prior to 10 500 BP.