Local relief models (LRM) are proposed as a new tool for archaeological prospection. A data processing approach is presented which produces LRM from LiDAR-derived high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs). The LRM represents local, small-scale elevation differences after removing the large-scale landscape forms from the data. The LRM greatly enhances the visibility of small-scale, shallow topographic features irrespective of the illumination angle and allows their relative elevations as well as their volumes to be measured directly. This makes the LRM an improved basis for spatially extensive archaeological prospection over a wide range of landscapes. The LRM raster map of local positive and negative relief variations can be used for the mapping and prospection of archaeological features such as burial mounds, linear and circular earthworks, sunken roads, agricultural terraces, ridge and furrow fields, kiln podia and mining/quarrying sites. This approach is currently being used in a project aimed at the complete archaeological mapping and prospection of the state Baden-Württemberg (Germany), covering an area of 35 751 km2. The goal of the project is the verification and extension of the existing archaeological data base. An object-based local relief vector layer is produced as a by-product; however, due to the common amalgamation of natural and anthropogenic features this cannot be used efficiently for archaeological prospection at present. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.