Parameters in the use of pXRF for archaeological site prospection: A case study at the Reaume Fort Site, Central Minnesota

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Field portable/hand-held x-ray fluorescence (pXRF) analyzers have been characterized as potentially useful for archaeological site prospection, but little has been published on the parameters of their use in this manner. The purpose of this study is to explore whether the variability of surface geochemistry as characterized with a pXRF analyzer corresponds with subsurface archaeological features at a site subsequently excavated, and what conditions influence the success of this endeavor, including feature depths, soil moisture, and sample processing. A 520m2 within-site area was systematically surveyed on a 2m interval, within which several types of archaeological features were excavated (chimney bases, wall trenches, and a bonebed of faunal waste), taking readings in situ and collecting samples for ex situ testing (undried, dried but not powdered, and dried/powdered). The four different tests of each grid location, analyzed through univariate and multivariate tests, showed that the pXRF surface data does correspond with some types of subsurface features when those features are very shallow (within 5cm of surface level) and are associated with clayey fills. Further, the data from the subsurface samples provides excellent distinction of feature fills from other sediments, regardless of sample preparation. In situ surface survey with pXRF analyzers may however be adequate for sites with a thorough baseline geochemical database.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3193-3211
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding for the purchase and maintenance of the analyzer was provided by the University of Minnesota , College of Liberal Arts and the Office of the Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs (Dr. Alex Rothman). I thank Lauren Jones for her excellent work in preparing samples for testing and assistance in the project overall. I am very grateful to Tsim Schneider for his mastery in preparing surface density maps for me, and his generosity with his time. My thanks also to graduate students Amelie Allard, Jammi Ladwig, Jennifer Immich, Burt Smith, and Linda Chisholm for assistance in the field; and to the members of the Wadena County community who have supported the excavations throughout. I am grateful to the two anonymous reviewers and the JAS editors who provided such insightful comments and suggestions, greatly improving this article. Any errors or omissions in the argument are my own.


  • Geochemistry
  • PXRF
  • Sample preparation
  • Site prospection


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