Examination of Late Palaeolithic archaeological sites in northern Europe for the preservation of cryptotephra layers

Rupert Housley, Clive Gamble, RESET associates

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We report the first major study of cryptotephra (non-visible volcanic ash layers) on Late Palaeolithic archaeological sites in northern Europe. Examination of 34 sites reveals seven with identifiable cryptotephra layers. Preservation is observed in minerogenic and organic deposits, although tephra is more common in organic sediments. Cryptotephra layers normally occur stratigraphically above or below the archaeology. Nearby off-site palaeoclimate archives (peat bogs and lakes <0.3 km distant) were better locations for detecting tephra. However in most cases the archaeology can only be correlated indirectly with the cryptotephras. Patterns affecting the presence/absence of cryptotephra include geographic position of sites relative to the emitting volcanic centre; the influence of past atmospherics on the quantity, direction and patterns of cryptotephra transport; the nature and timing of local site sedimentation; sampling considerations and subsequent taphonomic processes. Overall, while tephrostratigraphy has the potential to improve significantly the chronology of such sites many limiting factors currently impacts the successful application.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-150
Number of pages9
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date25 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2015


  • Tephrostratigraphy
  • Lateglacial
  • taphonomy

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