We have applied cluster analysis to mercury intrusion porosimetry data from 219 archaeological bones (121 human and 98 animal) and soil chemistry data from 219 accompanying soil samples (1 per bone sample), to investigate the influence of soil chemistry on bone preservation. The samples chosen for the study were obtained from sites ranging in time from the pre-modern to the Mesolithic and were representative of burial environments across Europe (from the Baltic to the Mediterranean). These results represent the single largest database for archaeological bone preservation in the European Holocene to date and demonstrate the potential for large-scale diagenetic studies to help develop long term preservation strategies for our European heritage. Despite the variety of sites and environments, bones could be categorised into only four main diagenetic types. Furthermore, soil chemistry appears to significantly affect only one type of preservation, the pathway characterised by loss of mineral. In neutral to basic soils, taphonomy and in particular the differences between the treatment of human and animal remains, becomes the dominating factor in determining preservation. Using these results, strategies for heritage management of archaeological sites can be suggested; grouping sites into those requiring immediate excavation and those where in situ preservation is viable. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.