Luminescence dating techniques are applicable to a wide range of geological, geomorphological, paleoenvironmental, paleoseismological, and archaeological problems. Quartz and feldspar are the primary minerals that are used but other silicate minerals are known to produce a luminescence signal. In the case of sediments, the last exposure to light is dated; in the case of pottery or burnt stones, the last exposure to heat is dated.

Luminescence has several advantages including that the minerals making up the sediments themselves are dated rather than some material within the sediment such as organic material or volcanic ash that may not be present within every sample of interest or may be reworked. Unlike radiocarbon, calibration is not necessary.  The technique is reliable for dating deposition over a large range from decades to ~200,000 years or more.

Age Limits
The age limit of luminescence generally ranges from years to hundreds of thousand years. The lower age limit is restricted by the efficacy of signal resetting, signal sensitivity, and thermal transfer components (signals generated by heating during analysis), all of which cannot be determined before making analytical measurements. The upper age limit is controlled by the capacity of the crystal lattice to store electrons (the number and nature of traps) and the dose rate of the environment. Dose saturation refers to the complete filling of traps such that continued exposure to emissions from radiation decay results in no more accumulation of electrons and thus no increase in luminescence signal. The properties of minerals that control signal sensitivity and dose saturation (as well as other luminescence characteristics) vary even within minerals of a single composition and the dose rate varies in different environments.

Accuracy and Precision
Luminescence typically has good agreement with age comparisons to samples of known age and to ages derived from independent methods (e.g. Barnett, 2000; Bailiff, 2007; Murray and Olley, 2002; Rhodes et al., 2003; Rittenour, 2008). Combined uncertainty in the measurement of De and of the dose rate typically ranges from 5-10% including random and systematic error. Age estimates are typically reported as a central value with one standard deviation (68% confidence interval) uncertainty in years before the measurement. 


Bailiff, I. K. ,2007. Methodological developments in the luminescence dating of brick from English late-medieval and post-medieval buildings. Archaeometry 49, 827-851.

Barnett, S.M., 2000. Luminescence dating of pottery from later prehistoric Britain. Archaeometry 42, 431-457.

Murray AS, Olley JM. 2002. Precision and accuracy in the optically stimulated luminescence dating of sedimentary quartz: a status review. Geochronometria 21:1–16. (Links to PDF.)

Rhodes E.J., Bronk-Ramsey C., Outram Z., Batt C., Willis L. 2003. Bayesian methods applied to the interpretation of multiple OSL dates: high precision sediment age estimates from Old Scatness Broch excavations, Shetland Isles. Quaternary Science Reviews 22: 1231–44.

Rittenour, T. M., 2008. Luminescence dating of fluvial deposits: applications to geomorphic, palaeoseismic, and archaeological research. Boreas 37: 613-635.