Geoarchaeology – Analysing Monolith Samples

‘Soil monolith samples’, such as these taken from a site in Yoxford, Suffolk, are a type of sample that we collect from features with changing accumulated deposits, such as alluvial channels (rivers) and ditch sections with significant sedimentation, or from buried soils, which were the old land surfaces of the site. These are taken vertically, using special tins or plastic guttering.

Taking monolith samples
Taking monolith samples
Examining a monolith sample in the lab
Examining a Monolith sample in the lab

Back in the lab, our environmental team can then interpret and describe the sediments, to gain an understanding of the processes that led to the development of the site. geoarchaeological assessment provides not only information about natural processes such as flooding and erosion, but also human exploitation of minerals, soils, and sediments; it can even offer information about preservation conditions. Gaining knowledge of the processes that have affected the formation and preservation of a site is key to helping us place archaeological features and finds in their correct environmental and temporal contexts.

By closely examining the sediments from monolith samples, we can assess their potential for further scientific study, including the analysis of pollen, diatoms and foraminifera (algae), soil micromorphology, and radiocarbon dating. The deposition of the sediments can also tell us how vegetation, agriculture and land management changed over time.

Agata Kowalska and Tom Brindle

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