Over the last 50 years, erosion has resulted in significant deterioration of Dutch archaeological sites. In the most extreme cases, the surface soil material has been reduced by more than 15 centimeters. This deterioration was the critical conclusion reached from a recent study into the threat of archaeological sites via erosion. The multidisciplinary investigation was carried out by the National Cultural Heritage Agency, in collaboration with the Universities of Groningen, Wageningen and Colorado, TNO, Medusa Explorations and the landowners/farmers of three test locations in Groningen and Limburg.
The study was led by Prof. Dr. Hans Huisman. Prof. Huisman is a researcher at the Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency, and was recently appointed as Professor by special appointment of Geoarchaeology and Archaeometry at the Groninger Institute of Archaeology (GIA) at the University of Groningen.
The study used isotopes of plutonium and cesium, which were released into the atmosphere from tests of nuclear weapons by the US and Soviet Union from 1958 – 1963. The weapons test resulted in a homogeneous precipitation of fall-out material over the earth’s surface. The soil displacement that occurred in the following decades disrupted this homogeneous distribution. By measuring the effects of this movement, the research team was able to establish the level of severity of the erosion after 1963.
It has been common knowledge that archaeological sites may suffer from erosion, but until now there were no proper methods to measure the duration and rate of degradation of the erosion. Such information is critical for assessing the severity of the issue – as well as analysing the usefulness/necessity of the collected data. The successful results in this study provide further motivation to continue utilizing this method for the investigation and quantification of erosion effects, and the impact of erosion on land usage.
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