Publication Details

Hamel, JV, Knott, DL, Flentje, P, Fityus, S 2022, ‘Prehistoric landslides: significance, recognition, examples’, paper presented at the International Slope Stability 2022 Symposium, Tucson, Arizona USA, 17-21 October.


Prehistoric landslides with a wide range of ages and sizes exist worldwide in both rock and soil. Many are thought to have occurred during Pleistocene time when climates in some areas were harsher and wetter. Subsequent weathering and erosion have subdued topography and other features of prehistoric landslides, often making them difficult to recognize. Recognition is the key to dealing with prehistoric and other old landslides. Old slide masses are usually only marginally stable because past movements reduced available shear strength on their failure surfaces to residual levels. These masses are susceptible to reactivation by construction activities, heavy precipitation, and earthquakes. If prehistoric landslides are recognized, they can be avoided or steps taken to minimize interference with them. Where they cannot be avoided, they must be stabilized or lived with. Stabilization typically involves robust retaining structures, large buttress fills, or excavation of most of the slide mass - all of which are expensive. Living with old landslides may involve continuing maintenance for distress caused by creep or other movements; this can also be expensive. Problems arise when prehistoric and other old landslides are unrecognized, then reactivated during or after construction. Then, unexpected ground movements cause damage, increase costs, set back construction schedules, and disrupt partially completed or completed facilities and operations. Geologic considerations, features of prehistoric and old landslides, and guidance for recognizing them are presented. Then examples of prehistoric landslides in the United States, Papua New Guinea, and Australia are given.