Statistical, geochemical, and morphological analyses of stone line formation in Uganda

David J. Brown, Kevin McSweeney, Philip A. Helmke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The resolution of conflicting fluvial (allochthonic erosion and deposition) and bioturbation (autochthonic faunal turbation) theories of stone line formation has important implications for tropical geomorphology-with the former indicating dynamic, punctuated landscape development and the latter implying relative landscape stability with ongoing moderate erosion. On a gentle hill in central Uganda, we quantitatively characterized and statistically modeled gravel distributions for 93 profiles. Elemental analysis of K, selected rare-earth elements (REE) and appropriate index elements were employed to test for compositional differences between soils above and saprolite below hilltop stone lines. We also excavated and carefully described four indicative profiles. The results of this study were difficult to reconcile with the bioturbation theory of stone line formation. Important findings included (i) the lack of a consistent gravel-free biomantle with a weak connection between biomantle thickness and stone-line depth, (ii) highly variable stone line depth with a strong inverse relationship between stone line depth and maximum gravel content, (iii) unweathered and rounded cobbles in a stone line over saprolite with angular, highly weathered quartz, and (iv) a statistically significant geochemical difference between soils and saprolites, with evidence of a less weathered surface mantle over more weathered saprolite. These findings indicated a sedimentary origin for soils at this site-even for what is presently a flat, geomorphically isolated hilltop. Evidence from this study and previous work on the geochemistry of this site [Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 67 (2003) 2711] suggests that the contemporary hilltop once occupied a lower landscape position.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-237
Number of pages21
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioantle
  • Bioturbation
  • Landscape inversion
  • Rare-earth elements
  • Stone lines

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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