Archaeologists make inferences about past human behaviour based on patterned material residues in various depositional contexts, including existing landsurfaces. These deposits are generated by processes that may obscure patterns at some observational scales while highlighting others, and interpretive differences can arise from a lack of explicit models of deposit formation. Here, an exploratory agent-based model based on the concept of the palimpsest is used to examine the effects of episodic sediment transport on the visibility and preservation of surface archaeological deposits in a fluvial context. Outcomes from the model indicate that the compound influences of preservation and visibility are capable of transforming a static radiocarbon record into one of increasing intensity towards the present, while simultaneously displaying periodic chronological gaps – features that have been used in our Australian study area to argue for demographic change driven by social or environmental factors. To differentiate between interpretations, expectations derived from the model are assessed against a second proxy from the same study area: Optically Stimulated Luminescence dates from hearth stones in surface contexts. Results indicate that patterns in the chronometric proxies from the study area are more consistent with episodic geomorphic change than explanations invoking changes in the local organization of human activity.