Thermoluminescence (TL) is the name given to an effect observed when certain minerals give off light created by natural radiation. Some of these minerals are contained in clay, and the effect occurs upon firing of the clay. The time elapsed between such firings can therefore be measured and serves as a reliable dating method. It is well established in the fields of archaeology (where it is used extensively for authenticity testing) and geology. Until recently this method has not been used in the discipline of architectural history. Here we propose specific adaptations of this method to this discipline and demonstrate the inherent limits in its accuracy. We examined a number of Venetian villas dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries, with three goals in mind: 1. To establish this method in architectural history by cross-checking it against well dated buildings. 2. To try and date buildings of unknown age. 3. To try and distinguish individual building phases of one and the same building. The results obtained confirmed all hopes placed in the method. In this paper we discuss in detail, some of these results exemplifying all three goals cited above; and we give a brief explanation of the scientific background and the sampling procedure.

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