Polarity reversals, excursions and secular variation of the geomagnetic field are examined as magnetostratigraphic tools in recent sediments. Polarity reversals and some excursions are recognizable worldwide, whereas secular variation occurs on a more local scale. The reliability of palaeomagnetic directions in recent sediments, as a record of the ancient geomagnetic field, varies widely. The necessity of acceptability criteria for using palaeomagnetic data in chronological studies is emphasized. Low temperature partial demagnetization of Recent sediments is described to illustrate its use, in conjunction with more conventional magnetic and geochemical techniques, in establishing the mode and duration of origin of the natural remanent magnetization.