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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Mike Church

Church, M J & Peters, C (2004). Application of mineral magnetism in Atlantic Scotland archaeology 2: magnetic susceptibility and archaeobotanical taphonomy in West Lewis, Scotland. In Atlantic connections and adaptations: economies, environments and subsistence in lands bordering the North Atlantic. Housley, R A & Coles, G M Oxford: Oxbow Books. 99-115.

Author(s) from Durham


The use of two basic mineral magnetic measurements (mass specific magnetic susceptibility and frequency dependent susceptibility) is described in the investigation of archaeobotanical taphonomy from nine sites in West Lewis. Magnetic enhancement was observed throughout a range of archaeological deposits on each of the sites sampled. It is proposed that this magnetic enhancement stems from the spread of ash from hearths or other burning activities. The link between magnetic enhancement, ash content and carbonised plant macrofossil concentration is demonstrated across the sites. Much of the carbonised plant remains recovered from archaeological sites in Britain were most likely carbonised in household fires and subsequently spread across the site by various dispersal mechanisms. This taphonomic model is confirmed for the nine sites investigated through the independent proxy of mineral magnetism. A key implication of the model in Atlantic Scotland is the very poor preservation environment for carbonisation of plant macrofossils in fires with peat as its main fuel.