The sand sequences exposed at the archaeological sites of Arendonk-Korhaan and Lommel-Maatheide offer a unique means to study the possible relation between human occupation patterns and climatic and environmental changes during the Weichselian-Holocene transition in the Campine region (NE Belgium). Of particular importance is that, at these localities, the Final Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic settlement phases are stratigraphically separated. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating established a chronology for the evolution of the physical landscape around these sites; such a framework is essential when trying to understand settlement dynamics in response to environmental forcing.
Thirty samples in total were dated using quartz SAR-OSL. The luminescence ages range from 16.2 ± 1.4 ka to 10.6 ± 0.7 ka. They indicate that sand deposition at Arendonk and Lommel was already going on during the final phase of the Late Pleniglacial and/or the onset of the Late Glacial. At Arendonk, sediments and soils from the early Late Glacial until the Allerød are missing, whereas a single interruption in the aeolian activity during the Allerød interstadial is reported for Lommel. Landscape stabilisation during the Allerød is also suggested by stratigraphical evidence, i.e. the presence of a bleached horizon both at elevated and low-lying flat areas, and extensive peat growth in wet depressions. The Bølling interstadial, on the other hand, has not been recognised in the lithostratigraphic record; this corroborates earlier suggestions that the climatic amelioration during the Bølling was not accompanied by a general stabilisation of the land surface in the NW European lowlands.
The continuation of sand transport and deposition across the Late Pleniglacial/Late Glacial boundary may explain why human societies did not occupy the Campine region until the Allerød. During this interstadial, environmental conditions improved sufficiently to attract Final Palaeolithic Federmessergruppen to settle on higher grounds in the area. The climate deteriorated at the onset of the Late Dryas and, as a consequence, aeolian activity intensified again at Arendonk and Lommel, with at least 0.5 – 1 m of sand being deposited in a period of ˜1 ka; this may have caused the Federmesser to leave the area. At both localities, no occupation has been attested for the Late Dryas period until the Early Holocene, when Early Mesolithic societies settled in the area. This study illustrates how luminescence dating can contribute to an improved understanding of the environmental context around archaeological sites in the Campine region.