Abstract

Speleothems are well-proven archives of terrestrial climate variation, recording mean temperature, rainfall, and surface vegetation data at subannual to millennial resolution. They also form within the generally stable environment of caves, and thus may remain remarkably well preserved for many millions of years and, most important, can be dated radiometrically to provide robust chronologies that do not rely on orbital tuning, ice-flow modeling, or estimates of sediment deposition rates. The recent adaptation of the U-Pb dating technique to speleothems has greatly extended their potential as paleoclimate recorders back into the more distant geological past, well beyond the ∼500 k.y. limit previously imposed by U-series techniques, but the opportunities presented by these new methods have yet to be fully explored. As an extreme example, here we report on samples recovered from Permian cave fills, the oldest radiometrically dated speleothems so far documented. Using state of the art analytical techniques it is possible to determine not only their age and state of preservation, but also to extract apparently nearly pristine climate proxy data. Armed with these methods, it now seems reasonable to apply the lessons learned from more recent speleothems to ancient materials, wherever they can be found, and of whatever age, to generate snapshots of paleoclimate that can be used to greatly refine the records preserved within the sediments and fossils of the time.

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