Precipitated carbonates (commonly termed tufas or travertines) maybe of considerable utility for palaeoenvironmental reconstruction. Their potential, however, for such reconstruction is commonly limited by difficulties associated with their absolute age control. Attempts to date such deposits via uranium series techniques have been complicated by their chemically open behaviour. Here we describe an alternative approach to date tufa deposits associated with ephemeral saline lake basins from the Southern High Plains, USA. We have optically dated sand grains of a mixed aeolian/fluvial (spring fed) origin as the integrating dosimeter. We assume that the grains are fully resetting prior to their incorporation into the tufa deposits and employ a time-dependent disequilibrium dosimetric model to account for the build-up of uranium series daughter products. The approach was applied to a set of four samples with known stratigraphic association. We obtained stratigraphically sensible optical ages ranging from 78??8 to 56??4ka. These data are consistent with existing palaeoenvironmental models of regional recharge. ?? 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.