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Predicting the preservation of cultural artefacts and buried materials in soil

OPEN The Science of the total environment | 30 May 2015

M Kibblewhite, G Tóth and T Hermann
This study identifies factors affecting the fate of buried objects in soil and develops a method for assessing where preservation of different materials and stratigraphic evidence is more or less likely in the landscape. The results inform the extent of the cultural service that soil supports by preserving artefacts from and information about past societies. They are also relevant to predicting the state of existing and planned buried infrastructure and the persistence of materials spread on land. Soils are variable and preserve different materials and stratigraphic evidence differently. This study identifies the material and soil properties that affect preservation and relates these to soil types; it assesses their preservation capacities for bones, teeth and shells, organic materials, metals (Au, Ag, Cu, Fe, Pb and bronze), ceramics, glass and stratigraphic evidence. Preservation of Au, Pb and ceramics, glass and phytoliths is good in most soils but degradation rates of other materials (e.g. Fe and organic materials) is strongly influenced by soil type. A method is proposed for using data on the distribution of soil types to map the variable preservation capacities of soil for different materials. This is applied at a continental scale across the EU for bones, teeth and shells, organic materials, metals (Cu, bronze and Fe) and stratigraphic evidence. The maps produced demonstrate how soil provides an extensive but variable preservation of buried objects.
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Soil classification, Zinc, Copper, Humus, Organic matter, Soil
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