Geostatistical and multi-elemental analysis of soils to interpret land-use history in the Hebrides, Scotland

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Abstract

In the absence of documentary evidence about settlement form and agricultural practice in northwest Scotland before the mid-18th century, a geoarchaeological approach to reconstructing medieval land use and settlement form is presented here. This study applies multielemental analysis to soils previously collected from a settlement site in the Hebrides and highlights the importance of a detailed knowledge of the local soil environment and the cultural context. Geostatistical methods were used to analyze the spatial variability and distribution of a range of soil properties typically associated with geoarchaeological investigations. Semivariograms were produced to determine the spatial dependence of soil properties, and ordinary kriging was undertaken to produce prediction maps of the spatial distribution of these soil properties and enable interpolation over nonsampled locations in an attempt to more fully elucidate former land-use activity and settlement patterns. The importance of identifying the spatial covariance of elements and the need for several lines of physical and chemical evidence is highlighted. For many townships in the Hebrides, whose precise location and layout prior to extensive land reorganization in the late 18th–early 19th century is not recoverable through plans, multi-elemental analysis of soils can offer a valuable prospective and diagnostic tool. © 2007 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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