Erosion of archaeological sites: Quantifying the threat using optically stimulated luminescence and fallout isotopes

H. Huisman*, J.W. de Kort, M.E. Ketterer, T. Reimann, J.M. Schoorl, M. van der Heiden, Maud van Soest, Fenny van Egmond

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Although visible evidence shows that erosion has damaged many archaeological sites, especially when tilled, there has hitherto been scant attention to its quantitative assessment. Accordingly, the archaeology communities lack insight into whether long‐term threats to the stability and integrity of soils at these sites allow these cultural repositories to be preserved for future human generations. Of the techniques that are available to measure erosion rates, few have been tested on the timescales needed. We selected three archaeological sites with high expected erosion rates. We combined optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating with analyses of radioactive fallout isotope distributions to assess erosion patterns and rates. An age–depth representation of OSL single‐aliquot results was developed to determine past erosion, and to identify stable land surfaces on centennial to millennia timescales. Fall‐out isotopes of cesium (Cs) and plutonium (Pu) were suitable for shorter timescales: The 240Pu/239Pu ratios and a correlation between activities of 239+240Pu and 137Cs demonstrated the weapons testing fallout origin of these isotopes in the ~1952–1966 timeframe. Erosion rates in recent decades ranged from 2 to 6 mm/year on the studied sites. Our results indicate that erosion is not only tied to the past, but keeps on threatening archaeological sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-494
JournalGeoarchaeology: an international journal
Issue number4
Early online date16 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019


  • 137Cs
  • erosion
  • fallout
  • OSL
  • Pu


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