The capability of Rare Earth Elements geochemistry to interpret complex archaeological stratigraphy

Gianni Gallello, Maria De La Cruz Ferro Vazquez, Simon Chenery, Carol Lang, Senna Rose Thornton-Barnett, Tabitha Kabora, Mark Edward Hodson, Daryl Stump

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study rare earth elements (REE) signatures (REE ratios, cerium and europium anomalies) are applied to a complex soil stratigraphic sequence from the site of Konso, Ethiopia, with the aim of determining whether REE can distinguish the strata observed in the field. Forty soil samples were taken from a depositional sequence that includes overlapping human induced and ‘natural’ erosional and depositional processes. The samples were analyzed by Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) to determine trace elements and REE, with concentrations of major elements determined using X-ray fluorescence (XRF). Cluster Analyses (CA) were used to observe differences between strata. The mechanisms that influenced REE values and fractionations were related to OM accumulation, pyrogenic SOM, redox, secondary CaCO3 precipitation, suggesting the addition of proxies to the REE, Sc and Y data processing. This produced a clustering of samples that more accurately reflected the stratigraphic field observations. It is expected that this approach, combining the analysis of REE concentrations with an understanding of the mechanisms driving them in a given site or profile, will be replicable for other stratigraphic sequences. The results demonstrate that REE signatures are not just able to detect stratigraphic differences defined through field observations but also highlight variations within the same deposits. REE analysis could therefore become a powerful geoarchaeological tool, even for studies of complex stratigraphies.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalMicrochemical Journal
Early online date21 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2019

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© 2019 Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • rare earth elements
  • agricultural terraces
  • organic matter
  • Konso
  • anthropogenic deposits
  • stratigraphy

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