Recent events, such as the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, have highlighted the importance of understanding the distribution of volcanic ash deposits, but the tephra preserved in Scotland’s peat and lake deposits contributes directly to science-based archaeology.
The presence of unambiguously identified and dated tephra layers can provide a crucial test of other chronological methods (e.g.
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The Natural Environmental Research Council Tephra Analytical Unit ( (electron and ion microprobes) is based in the School of Geo Sciences at the University of Edinburgh (School of Geo Sciences 2010).
It is through the definition of isochrons and the precise correlation of environmental records and chronology that tephra allows, that the greatest potential contribution to Scottish archaeology by this means can be expected.
While the presence of more than a dozen tephras can add spot dates of great utility to long-term records (such as 1510 AD), it is the use of precisely-defined isochrons that lie across most of Scotland that holds the greatest future potential.
Spatial patterns and their changes through time are crucially important to our understanding of the past, particular during periods of rapid cultural or environmental change and tephrochronology can enable correlations to be made to within a year.
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As a result it is the correlation of a tephra to its source eruption enables the dating of that event to be applied to tephra wherever it is found (Dugmore and Newton 2009).
Dating may be derived from a number of sources such as written records, ice core dates, sediment accumulation rates and radiocarbon.
Correlation of tephra deposits generally relies on accurate grain specific chemical analysis of major and minor elements.
Firmly identified tephra deposits have the potential to define an i in natural contexts partly due to sea level changes, but it does occur in a range of archaeological contexts that are not contemporaneous with the original, pumice-forming eruptions.
Since the first discovery and identification of Icelandic volcanic ash in microscopic amounts (cryptotephras) in Scotland (Dugmore 1989), tephrochronology (Lowe 2010) has become a standard palaeoenvironmental tool in Scotland.