The scale of soil investigations in archaeology

Vance T. Holliday, C. Reid Ferring, Paul Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Soil science (particularly pedology) and archaeology are closely allied in their temporal and spatial scales, and among the earth sciences, pedology is most similar to archaeology in operational and processual scales. These similarities in scale are apparent in both regional and site-specific studies. At large (regional) scales, soil stratigraphy has long been used in archaeology for correlating sites and for dating. Soil-geomorphic investigations also are compatible in scale to regional archaeological investigations, focusing on dating, environmental reconstruction, and landscape evolution. Soil micromorphology (soil petrography) is also useful for regional geomorphic and archaeologic studies, including investigations of sediment provenance, landscape evolution, environmental reconstructions, and agricultural development. At small (site-specific) scales, the focus of pedology-the soil profile-is similar in scale to many archaeological sites (tens of centimeters to a few meters thick) and the scale of many pedological features is similar to that of archaeological features (a few millimeters to tens of centimeters). Soil variability at small scales as a function of slope, drainage, or lithologic change is a common theme in pedology and is also of archaeological significance for stratigraphic correlation and interpretation of site formation processes. Temporal scales of formation of individual pedogenic versus anthropic features are disparate (centuries to millennia versus days to decades, respectively), but overall processes of site formation and cultural evolution operate at temporal scales similar to those of soil formation (decades to millennia). The scalar compatibility of archaeology and pedology strongly argues for pedologists and pedologic perspectives to be involved in all phases of archaeological research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-37
Number of pages9
JournalSpecial Paper of the Geological Society of America
StatePublished - Jan 1 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology


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