Rare Earth Elements analysis to identify anthropogenic signatures at Valle del Serpis (Spain) Neolithic settlements

Gianni Gallello, Joan Bernabeu, Agustin Diez, Pilar Escriba, Agustin Pastor, Marco Lezzerini, Mark Edward Hodson, Daryl Stump

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Due to their particular geochemical properties and stability Rare Earth Elements (REE) can act as a ‘fingerprint’ for soils, and as a consequence have been employed in a variety of different archaeological scenarios in order to identify past human activities.In this study, for the first time, we apply REE signatures in different Spanish Neolithic settlements, all located in the Valle del Serpis region. More than 100 Neolithic settlements have been identified in this area, and most of these open sites are characterised by dark brown strata that are in contrast with the light brown soils of the valley. These dark brown deposits are usually covered by paleosols and have been interpreted as markers of anthropogenic activities. However, in order to demonstrate whether these strata are anthropogenic or natural features requires a better understand-ing of soil development processes. A total of fifty samples were taken across six different sites, and from each site the sam-pling was carried out at different depths through 3m deep sections. Four sites are clearly associated with archaeological findings (sites BF, LP, PB and AC); another one is from a natural section near the Neolithic site of Mas d’Is (MD) and has been radiocarbon dated to the beginning of the Holocene (7751-7611 cal BC); and the last corresponds to a place of uncertain attribution (BK). Major, minor and trace elements including REE were determined using XRF and ICP- MS, with Principal Components Analysis (PCA) used to statistically analyze these data. Results were then compared with the strata soil properties analysed by XRD and particle size analysis, and cross-referenced with archaeological data to aid interpretation. The results demonstrate that REE analyses provide significant details regarding anthropogenic activities and strata development history, and in this instance confirm and elaborate on the archaeological interpretation that these dark brown deposits are evidence of a region-wide agricultural system in the Neolithic Valle del Serpis.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbstract Book CSI XL PISA 2017, EMSLIBS 2017
EditorsAlessandro Corozzi
Place of PublicationPisa
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jun 2017

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