The recent development of rapid single sand-sized grain analyses in luminescence dating has necessitated the accurate interpretation of D-e distributions to recover a representative D-e acquired since the last bleaching event. Beta heterogeneity may adversely affect the variance and symmetry of D-e distributions and it is important to characterise this effect, both to ensure that dose distributions are not misinterpreted, and that an accurate beta dose rate is employed in dating calculations. In this study, we make a first attempt providing a description of potential problems in heterogeneous environments and identify the likely size of these effects on D-e distributions. The study employs the MCNP 4C Monte Carlo electron/photon transport model, supported by an experimental validation of the code in several case studies. We find good agreement between the experimental measurements and the Monte Carlo simulations. It is concluded that the effect of beta, heterogeneity in complex environments for luminescence dating is two fold: (i) the infinite matrix dose rate is not universally applicable; its accuracy depends on the scale of the heterogeneity, and (ii) the interpretation of D-e distributions is complex and techniques which reject part of the D-e distribution may lead to inaccurate dates in some circumstances. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.