Chemical soil surveys at the Bremer Site (Dakota county, Minnesota, USA): Measuring phosphorous content of sediment by portable XRF and ICP-OES

Ellery Frahm, Gilliane F. Monnier, Nicolas A. Jelinski, Edward P. Fleming, Brian L. Barber, Justice B. Lambon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


The Bremer Site lies along the shores of Spring Lake in southeastern Minnesota, and excavations in the 1950s uncovered evidence of Woodland and Mississippian occupation phases. In 2011, a new program of systematic survey and excavation began to better understand cultural patterning and diachronic changes at the Bremer Site. The investigations came to include microarcheaological methods, including sediment micromorphology and soil chemistry. No element has received more archaeological attention than P, which can reflect human and animal waste, organic refuse, burials, and ash. There has been interest in integrating soil chemistry into the workflow of fieldwork and in the potential of portable analytical instruments to yield data within the timeframe of an excavation season. The last few years have seen the rise and proliferation of portable XRF (pXRF) instruments in archaeological studies. The newest generation of pXRF instruments is able to quantify P at low concentrations, and our focus here is developing effective methods to do so in archaeological soils and sediments. Using sediments from the Bremer Site, we evaluate two preparation techniques in order to find which one best balances analytical quality and preparation time. To analyze as many specimens as possible during an excavation season, it is desirable to identify adequate preparation methods as well as the smallest number of analyses needed to attain reasonable confidence levels. Regarding repeatability, we show that, to attain P values with a standard error better than 10% or 20% of the mean, one or two analyses per specimen are sufficient in a majority of cases. Regarding reproducibility, we compare the pXRF data to two independent ICP-OES datasets. Ultimately, these tests aid in establishing methods that enable archaeologically significant pXRF analyses of soil P concentrations, even when working far from an analytical laboratory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-138
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported, in part, by Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grant # 1307-00979 , awarded by the Minnesota Historical Society through funds provided by the State of Minnesota from the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Many thanks to Madison McKibben, Julia Palmquist, Alyssa Ramsden, and Liev Frahm for their help with sample preparation and pXRF analyses. The pXRF instrument is part of the infrastructure of the Institute for Rock Magnetism, Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota. It was funded through the University of Minnesota's Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry, and Scholarship Program. Trina Arpin conducted the soil micromorphological analyses. Rick Knurr conducted the ICP-OES analyses in the Analytical Geochemistry Laboratory. Roger Doonan, Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, shared his experiences using pXRF to measure P in sediments of floor layers at the archaeological site of Cladh Hallan. We also acknowledge the contributions of Matt Edling, Joshua Feinberg, Jammi Ladwig, Anna Munns, Mara Taft, David Tennessen, Keith Manthie, Kassie Kmitch, Laura Scheid, Jasmine Koncur, and three seasons of dedicated field school students to the Bremer Site project. Special thanks to Dakota County Parks and Gunter Drews for facilitating access to the site. Two anonymous reviewers are thanked for their comments that led to a stronger version of the final manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Anthropogenic soil chemistry
  • Laser particle size analysis
  • Phosphorous
  • Sediment analysis
  • Site spatial patterning
  • pXRF


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