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Feldspar SARA IRSL dating of very low dose rate aeolian sediments from Sandwick South, Unst, Shetland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Tim C. Kinnaird, David C W Sanderson, Gerald F. Bigelow


Young sediments, with low sensitivity and low dose rates, are challenging for luminescence dating. Here, we present work on the site of Sandwick South, a Norse settlement, in which these challenges were present. Field gamma dose rates below 0.1 mGy a-1, and total dose rates of 0.4-0.5 mGy a-1, combined with expected ages of less than 1ka, resulted in a requirement for quantitative determination of equivalent doses of 0.2-0.4 Gy. The bedrock geology of the area are metagabbros, which explain both the exceptionally low dose rates and the lack of autochthonous quartz. Luminescence profiling during fieldwork revealed stratigraphically progressive OSL and IRSL signals, indicating phases in the sediments with dating potential. While laboratory characterisation recovered some quartz, its low yields and luminescence sensitivity precluded application of quartz methods. Electron microscopy confirmed the presence of feldspars, which were separated and used for IRSL Single Aliquot Regeneration Additive (SARA) analysis. Counting times for both high resolution gamma spectrometry (HRGS) and thick source beta counting (TSBC) measurements were extended by 1 order of magnitude, resulting in overall uncertainties of <6% for these low dose rates. Dose estimates were obtained using an adapted SARA protocol, incorporating long overnight preheats before first measurement, with the aim of mitigating short-term fading effects. Using these procedures, archaeologically meaningful dates were obtained from this difficult material, which are internally consistent, coherent with stratigraphy, and concordant with the radiocarbon constraints of the associated archaeological settlement. The dates demonstrate sand accumulation in the early to mid-13th century AD and also in the 18th century AD, which are contemporary with disruptive sand movements registered in other coastal regions of the Northeast Atlantic and North Sea regions. The approaches adopted here have provided solutions to the challenging conditions of this young, insensitive material and can therefore be considered to extend the range and applicability of luminescence dating methods.



Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)168-174
Number of pages7
JournalQuaternary Geochronology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2015

    Research areas

  • Feldspar IRSL SARA, Low activity, Low sensitivity, Young sands

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