Luminescence techniques for dating both heated materials (e.g., pottery and burnt stone) and sediments have gone through three phases in the past 50 years. The first 22 years, from 1957 to 1979, were devoted to thermoluminescence (TL) techniques applied to heated material. In the next six years, from 1979 to 1985, it was found that TL dating could be applied to sediments. However, the TL signals of both quartz and feldspar grains observed for modern sediments were small, but were not zero, thus making them useful only for older sediments. A new luminescence signal that was totally zeroed by exposure to sunlight for a relatively short period of time, a few hours or less, was found; this led to the development of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating techniques in 1985. Further developments have continued to the present day. Within the past 22 years, 1999 was also a year with major developments. A reliable procedure for single aliquots of quartz that have a rapidly bleached (‘fast’) OSL component was formalized and an instrument that allowed rapid measurement of equivalent doses for single grains was constructed. These developments have led to OSL becoming a major dating tool in Quaternary geology, at least for the past 100 000 years, and in archaeology, particularly as related to the dispersal of modern humans.