The freshwater reservoir effect can result in anomalously old radiocarbon ages of samples from lakes and rivers. This includes the bones of people whose subsistence was based on freshwater fish, and pottery in which fish was cooked. Water rich in dissolved ancient calcium carbonates, commonly known as hard water, is the most common reason for the freshwater reservoir effect. It is therefore also called hardwater effect. Although it has been known for more than 60 years, it is still less well-recognized by archaeologists than the marine reservoir effect. The aim of this study is to examine the order of magnitude and degree of variability of the freshwater reservoir effect over short and long timescales. Radiocarbon dating of recent water samples, aquatic plants, and animals, shows that age differences of up to 2000 14C years can occur within one river. The freshwater reservoir effect has also implications for radiocarbon dating of Mesolithic pottery from inland sites of the Ertebølle culture in Northern Germany. The surprisingly old ages of the earliest pottery most probably are caused by a freshwater reservoir effect. In a sediment core from the Limfjord, northern Denmark, the impact of the freshwater reservoir effect on radiocarbon dating in an estuarine environment is examined. Here, freshwater influence causes reservoir ages to vary between 250 and 700 14C years during the period 5400 BC - AD 700. The examples in this study show clearly that the freshwater reservoir effect can seriously corrupt radiocarbon dating at inland sites. Reservoir effects should therefore be considered whenever food remains on pottery or the bones of omnivores are radiocarbon dated - irrespective of the site’s distance to the coast.
Heritage Science, 2013, Vol 1, Issue 24
Main Research Area:
SMIA X Scientific Methods in Archaeology Aalborg University, Esbjerg , Denmark 27-29th of September 2012