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Mads Kähler Holst

Dating of prehistoric burial mounds by 14C analysis of soil organic matter fractions

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Dating of prehistoric anthropogenic earthworks requires either excavation for archaeological artifacts or macroscopic organic matter suitable for 14C analysis. Yet, the former, in many cases, is undesirable and the latter is difficult to obtain. Here we present a soil science procedure, which has the potential to overcome these problems. It includes careful sampling of buried former soil surfaces, acid-alkali-acid fractionation of soil organic matter (SOM), and subsequent 14C AMS dating. To test the procedure, soil from one of the largest known burial mounds in Scandinavia, Hohøj, and 9 other Danish burial mounds were sampled. The 14C dates from extracted SOM fractions were compared to reference ages obtained by other methods. We show that humic acid fractions in 7 of the 10 mounds had the same age as the reference, or were, at maximum, 280 yr older than the reference ages. The best age estimates were derived from an organic-rich layer from the upper cm of buried soil or sod. Differences among SOM fraction ages probably indicate the reliability of the dating. Hohøj dated to approximately 1400 BC and, thus, was up to 500 yr older than other dated Scandinavian mounds of comparable size. The remaining investigated burial mounds were dated to between 1700 and 1250 BC. We conclude that combined sampling of buried soil surfaces, SOM fractionation, and 14C analysis allows for dating of archaeological earthworks when minimal disturbance is required, or if no macroscopic organic remains are found.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRadiocarbon
Volume45
Issue1
Pages (from-to)101-112
Number of pages12
ISSN0033-8222
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003

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