Developments in optically stimulated luminescence age control for geoarchaeological sediments and hearths in western New South Wales, Australia

Edward J. Rhodes*, Patricia C. Fanning, Simon J. Holdaway

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Research conducted by the Western New South Wales Archaeology Program (WNSWAP) provides the opportunity to assess the reliability of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of late Pleistocene and Holocene fluvial sediments and burnt stone samples from arid zone geoarchaeological contexts. A large number of radiocarbon age determinations of charcoal preserved in heat retainer hearths provides independent chronological control at these contexts. We describe a rapid OSL methodology for dating burnt hearth stones to complement previously applied radiocarbon methods, which we have tested using 37 samples from hearths with radiocarbon determinations. We propose a geoarchaeological model in which these hearths were constructed by people whose activity took place on an archaeological surface, formed by the earlier deposition of fluvial sediments. Here we demonstrate the veracity of this model by dating sediments lying stratigraphically below the hearths, and use the radiocarbon age control and chronological consistency to assess the accuracy and reliability of both small aliquot and single grain single aliquot regenerative-dose (SAR) OSL dating. While small aliquot age estimates are in most cases in agreement with independent control, the single grain determinations using a finite mixture model (FMM) appear to provide improved chronological resolution. Using single grains, we note some problems in the application of the FMM and in the dating of young samples in the range of 1-100 years. As many samples may have resided close to the surface since deposition, we have developed a mathematical function to describe gamma and cosmic dose rate contributions at burial depths down to 40 cm. These OSL age estimates allow us to reject the model of intensification of human activity as responsible for the observed pattern of archaeological radiocarbon determinations in this part of the Australian arid zone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)348-352
Number of pages5
JournalQuaternary Geochronology
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2010


  • Burial depth
  • Fluvial sediments
  • Hearths
  • OSL
  • Radiocarbon
  • Single grain


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