THE SIZE INHERITED AGE EFFECT ON RADIOCARBON DATES OF ALLUVIAL DEPOSITS: REDATING CHARCOAL FRAGMENTS IN A SAND-BED STREAM, MACDONALD RIVER, NSW, AUSTRALIA

Rachel Wood, Fleur King, Rebecca Esmay, Qianyang Chen, Larissa Schneider, Emilie Dotte-Sarout, Stewart Fallon, Kirstie Fryirs, Richard Gillespie, Russell Blong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Radiocarbon dates on charred plant remains are often used to define the chronology of archives such as lake cores and fluvial sequences. However, charcoal is often older than its depositional context because old-wood can be burnt and a range of transport and storage stages exist between the woodland and stream or lake bed ("inherited age"). In 1978, Blong and Gillespie dated four size fractions of charcoal found floating or saltating in the Macdonald River, Australia. They found larger fragments gave younger age estimates, raising the possibility that taphonomic modifications could help identify the youngest fragments. In 1978 each date required 1000s charcoal fragments. This study returns to a sample from the Macdonald River to date individual charcoal fragments and finds the inherited age may be more than 1700 years (mode 250 years) older than the collection date. Taphonomic factors, e.g., size, shape or fungal infestation cannot identify the youngest fragments. Only two fragments on short-lived materials correctly estimated the date of collection. In SE Australia, this study suggests that wood charcoal will overestimate the age of deposition, taphonomic modifications cannot be used to identify which are youngest, and multiple short-lived materials are required to accurately estimate the deposition age.

Original languageEnglish
JournalRadiocarbon
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Nov 2023

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