- © 2005 by the Seismological Society of America
Six episodes of earthquake-induced liquefaction are associated with soil horizons containing artifacts of the Late Archaic (3000-500 B.C.) and Early to Middle Woodland (500 B.C.-A.D. 400) cultural periods at the Burkett archaeological site in the northern part of the New Madrid seismic zone, where little information about prehistoric earthquakes has been available. Radiocarbon dating of organic material and analysis of artifacts are used to estimate the ages of the liquefaction features and times of the causative earthquakes. The most recent episode of liquefaction occurred after A.D. 1670, produced small sand dikes, and is probably related to the 1895 Charleston, Missouri earthquake. The preceding episode struck the area in A.D. 300 ± 200 years and generated a sand blow that contains Late Woodland artifacts and buries an Early to Middle Woodland cultural horizon. Four older episodes of liquefaction occurred in 2350 B.C. ± 200 years and may have been produced by a sequence of closely timed earthquakes. The four earlier episodes produced graben structures, sand dikes, and associated sand blows on which a cultural mound was constructed. The Burkett liquefaction features that formed about 2350 B.C. and A.D. 300 are relatively large and similar in age to other liquefaction features in northeastern Arkansas and southeastern Missouri, respectively. If the prehistoric features at the Burkett site and those of similar age elsewhere in the region are the result of the same earthquakes, then this suggests that they were similar in size to the three largest (M 7-8) 1811-1812 New Madrid earthquakes. A New Madrid-type earthquake in A.D. 300 ± 200 years would support an average recurrence time of 500 years. Although this study extends the earthquake chronology back to 2500 B.C., it is uncertain that the record of New Madrid events is complete for the period between 2350 B.C. and A.D. 300. As demonstrated by this study, information about other prehistoric earthquakes may be buried beneath fluvial deposits of the Mississippi River Valley.