Identifying the Brazil nut effect in archaeological site formation processes

David Luria, Alexander Fantalkin*, Ezra Zilberman, Eyal Ben-Dor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The Brazil nut effect (BNE) is a physical phenomenon by which large granular particles (i.e., archaeological artifacts) in a bed of small disturbed particles (i.e., soil), rise to the top surfaces. This paper examines the physical forces acting on archaeological artifacts—scattered on the surface and buried underground—to identify the major elements of site formation processes (SFPs). Combining theoretical advances in archaeology, pedology, granular physics and spectroscopy, we conducted accelerated laboratory tests on seven typical Israeli soils to form a SFP model. We suggest that the SFPs are the result of two opposing and continuous processes: soil coverage of the site started soon after human activity has ceased, and a force(s) that tends to lift buried artifacts up to exposed surfaces, acting in accordance with Brazil nut effect (BNE). The post-burial forces pressuring artifact movement upward are affected by the artifacts' density and size, soil characteristics and the local environment. As a result, some archaeological artifacts reach exposed surfaces, some are lifted to higher soil deposits but remain buried, and the rest remain in their original burial context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-281
Number of pages15
JournalMediterranean Geoscience Reviews
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Archaeological site formation
  • Brazil nut effect
  • Field survey
  • Granular physics
  • Pedology
  • Soil
  • Spectroscopy


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