Radiocarbon dating and the ”old shell” problem: direct dating of artifacts and cultural chronologies in coastal and other aquatic regions [An article from: Journal of Archaeological Science]
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Archaeologists have long recognized the problem of the ”old wood” effect in radiocarbon dating charcoal and wood samples, the age of which may be hundreds of years older than their use by humans. Such problems have resulted in significant changes in how most researchers select wood and charcoal samples for ^1^4C dating, with many now using relatively short-lived carbonized materials for dating. Despite the significant strides made in our understanding of the potential biases of the ”old wood” effect, little emphasis has been placed on the possible impacts of dating ”old shell” in archaeological deposits. The use of marine shell for ^1^4C dating is widespread in coastal areas around the world, including a growing emphasis on the dating of individual shell artifacts via Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS). In dating shell artifacts, we have obtained several dates older than associated ^1^4C dates for short-lived subsistence remains from the same deposits, including great disparities (>10,000years) and more subtle differences (>=100years). These discrepancies appear to be due to the use of old shells by humans to make beads and other artifacts, including shells collected from fossil deposits, older archaeological sites, and beaches. The problems caused by the use of old shells to make beads and other artifacts are surmountable through careful sample selection, analysis of multiple ^1^4C dates on a variety of materials, and proper calibration procedures.
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