Abstract. Ancient forests which have never been under agriculture often have larger ecological and pedological value than later established forests. We made a reconstruction of the land use history of the Meerdaal forest complex in central Belgium since 1759. Soil profiles of 33 recent forest sites and of contiguous forest parcels were examined morphologically by augering to 120 cm depth. pHKC1 was determined on samples from every horizon. The data were analysed by Principal Component Analysis, and the axes were used as a basis for derivation of horizon parameters. Former agricultural land use since 1759 can still be recognized in three soil morphological characteristics: colour of the eluviation horizon, intactness of the horizon containing illuviated clay and thickness of the organic layer. These parameters were combined into a ‘naturalness index’, which differs significantly between ancient and recent forest and can be easily and cost-effectively obtained to assess the degree of man-made disturbance of forests on loess-derived soils.