Hydrological controls on in situ preservation of archaeological deposits

J Holden, LJ West, Andrew Howard, E Maxfield, I Panter, J Oxley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    53 Citations (Scopus)


    Environmental change caused by urban development, land drainage, agriculture or climate change may result in accelerated decay of in situ archaeological remains. This paper reviews research into impacts of environmental change on hydrological processes of relevance to preservation of archaeological remains in situ. It compares work at rural sites with more complex urban environments. The research demonstrates that both the quantity and quality of data on preservation status, and hydrological and chemical parameters collected during routine archaeological surveys need to be improved. The work also demonstrates the necessity for any archaeological site to be placed within its topographic and geological context. In order to understand preservation potential fully, it is necessary to move away from studying the archaeological site as an isolated unit, since factors some distance away from the site of interest can be important for determining preservation. The paper reviews what is known about the hydrological factors of importance to archaeological preservation and recommends research that needs to be conducted so that archaeological risk can be more adequately predicted and mitigated. Any activity that changes either source pathways or the dominant water input may have an impact not just because of changes to the water balance or the water table, but because of changes to water chemistry. Therefore, efforts to manage threatened waterlogged environments must consider the chemical nature of the water input into the system. Clearer methods of assessing the degree to which buried archaeological sites can withstand changing hydrological conditions are needed, in addition to research which helps us understand what triggers decay and what controls thresholds of response for different sediments and types of artefact. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)59-83
    Number of pages25
    JournalEarth Science Reviews
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2006


    • hydrology
    • hydrological connectivity
    • groundwater
    • redox
    • subsurface processes
    • archaeology
    • organic deposits
    • preservation


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