Terrace Archaeology

and Culture in Europe


Develop terrace chronologies and dating methodologies… 

One of the main reasons that agricultural terraces have been so neglected is due to the major difficulty of dating them (Gibson 2015; Kinnaird et al. 2017). This is because un-reworked organic material for radiocarbon dating (e.g. charcoal, wood) is rarely preserved in terraces making it difficult to detect not only the earliest phases of construction but also abandonment and re-use. The frequent continued use of terraces into the historic period has also meant that walls are re-built and can be of little dating value. However, the development, and refinement, of direct sediment-dating techniques particularly OSL and more recently cosmogenic isotopes potentially allows direct dating of the terrace fill. Cosmogenic isotopes such as 10Be can be used to assess soil truncation or denudation (Bierman & Nichols 2004) and for burial dating (Granger & Muzikar 2001). The use of OSL in similar colluvial soils reviewed by Lang (2013a/b) and recent work in Israel and Spain has shown that OSL can document a complex history of terrace construction and collapse (Gibson 2015; Gadot et al. 2016; Kinnaird et al. 2017) which has hydrological implications (Bellin et al. 2009). The cosmogenic isotopes and micromorphlogy will be used with the burial chronology to estimate soil residence time testing and the relationship between soil formation and terrace formation.

These techniques and the methods require a description of the soil catenas and profiles (FAO Soil Classification) following several (2-4) rigorous small-scale section excavations by archaeologists who have experience in complex stratified deposits. In addition a number of standard electrometric techniques will be employed in the field to measure pH, soil moisture and REDOX (also important for aDNA). Samples will be taken and brought back to Southampton (which has a soils importation licence) to measure grain size, bulk chemistry and also for soil micromorphology. Micromorphology is a very powerful technique, within the soil sciences with the potential to understand the pedological evolution of soils on slopes (catenas) associated with terrace systems. Soils preserved beneath terraces often retain polygenetic properties showing that soil formation has been subjected to radical changes in conditions and micromorphology has the potential to not only identify complex soil history but to understand the pedological processes and environmental factors.