Skip to main content Accessibility help

A Re-Evaluation of the Reliability of AMS Dates on Pottery Food Residues from the Late Prehistoric Central Plains of North America: Comment on Roper (2013)

  • John P Hart (a1) and William A Lovis (a2)


Ancient carbon reservoirs in freshwater bodies have the potential to introduce ancient carbon into charred cooking residues adhering to pottery wall interiors when aquatic organisms are parts of cooked resource mixes. This ancient carbon results in old apparent ages when these cooking residues are subjected to accelerator mass spectrometry dating, the so-called freshwater reservoir effect (FRE). Roper's (2013) assessment of the FRE on 14C ages from cooking residue in the Central Plains is only the second such peer-reviewed regional assessment in eastern North America. Roper suggests that 13 of 23 14C ages on residue are too old as a result of ancient carbon from fish or leached from shell temper or old carbon introduced via maize nixtamalization. Herein, we re-assess Roper's data set of 14C ages on cooking residues and annual plants and argue that she is mistaken in her assessment of the accuracies of 14C ages from residues. This outcome is placed in the context of the larger FRE literature.



Hide All
Beck, M. 1998. Ceramics and community structure: a reanalysis of material from the Minneapolis Site (14OT5). Plains Anthropologist 43(165):287310.
Boudin, M, Van Strydonck, M, Crombé, P. 2010. Fish reservoir effect on charred food residue 14C dates: Are stable isotope analyses the solution? Radiocarbon 52(2):697705.
Boyd, M, Surette, C. 2010. Northernmost precontact maize in North America. American Antiquity 75(1):117–33.
Broecker, WS, Walton, A. 1959. The geochemistry of C14 in fresh-water systems. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 16(1):1538.
Culleton, BJ. 2006. Implications of a freshwater reservoir correction for the timing of late Holocene settlement of the Elk Hills, Kern County, California. Journal of Archaeological Science 33(9):1331–9.
Deevey, ES Jr, Gross, MS, Hutchinson, GE, Kraybill, HL. 1954. The natural C14 contents of materials from hard-water lakes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 40(5):285–88.
Ellwood, EC, Scot, MP, Lipe, WD, Matson, RG, Jones, JG. 2012. Stone-boiling maize with limestone: experimental results and implications for nutrition among SE Utah Preceramic groups. Journal of Archaeological Science 40(1):3544.
Fischer, A, Heinemeier, J. 2003. Freshwater reservoir effect in 14C dates of food residue on pottery. Radiocarbon 45(3):449–66.
Gillespie, R, Fink, D, Petchey, F, Jacobsen, G. 2009. Murray-Darling basin freshwater shells: riverine reservoir effect. Archaeologica Oceania 44(2):107–11.
Godwin, H. 1951. Comments on radiocarbon dating for samples from the British Isles. American Journal of Science 249(4):301–7.
Hart, JP, Lovis, WA. 2007a. The freshwater reservoir and radiocarbon dates on cooking residues: old apparent ages or a single outlier? Comments on Fischer and Heinemeier (2003). Radiocarbon 49(3):1403–10.
Hart, JP, Lovis, WA. 2007b. A multi-regional analysis of AMS and radiometric dates from carbonized food residues. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 32:201–61.
Hart, JP, Lovis, WA, Schulenberg, JK, Urquhart, GR. 2007a. Paleodietary implications from stable carbon isotope analysis of experimental cooking residues. Journal of Archaeological Science 34(5):804–13.
Hart, JP, Brumbach, HJ, Lusteck, R. 2007b. Extending the phytolith evidence for early maize (Zea mays ssp. mays) and squash (Cucurbita sp.) in central New York. American Antiquity 72(3):563–83.
Hart, JP, Urquhart, GR, Feranec, RS, Lovis, WA. 2009. Nonlinear relationship between bulk δ13C and percent maize in carbonized cooking residues and the potential of false negatives in detecting maize. Journal of Archaeological Science 36(10):2206–12.
Hart, JP, Lovis, WA, Urquhart, GR, Reber, EA. 2013. Modeling freshwater reservoir offsets on radiocarbon-dated charred cooking residues. American Antiquity 78(3):536–52.
Herbert, JM. 2008. The history and practice of shell tempering in the Middle Atlantic: a useful balance. Southeastern Archaeology 27(2):265–85.
Hohman-Caine, CA, Syms, EL. 2012. The Age of Brainerd Ceramics. Report prepared for Minnesota Historical Society Contract No. 4107232. Prepared by Soils Consulting, Hackensack, Minnesota, USA.
Ishikawa, NF, Hyodo, F, Tayasu, I. 2013. Use of carbon-13 and carbon-14 natural abundances for stream food web studies. Ecological Research 28(5):759–69.
Katz, SH, Hediger, ML, Valleroy, LA. 1974. Traditional maize processing techniques in the new world. Science 184(4138):765–73.
Keaveney, EM, Reimer, PJ. 2012. Understanding the variability in freshwater radiocarbon reservoir offsets: a cautionary tale. Journal of Archaeological Science 39(5):1306–16.
Kinietz, WV. 1940. The Indians of the Western Great Lakes 1615–1760. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Logan, B, editor. 1998. Prehistoric Settlement of the Lower Missouri Uplands. The View from DB Ridge, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Museum of Anthropology, Project Report Series No. 98. Lawrence: University of Kansas.
Lovis, WA, Urquhart, GR, Raviele, ME, Hart, JP. 2011. Hardwood ash nixtamalization may lead to false negatives for the presence of maize by depleting bulk δ13C in carbonized residues. Journal of Archaeological Science 38(10):2726–30.
Lovis, WA, Arbogast, AF, Monaghan, GW. 2012. The Geoarchaeology of Lake Michigan Coastal Dunes. Environmental Research Series, Volume 2. Michigan Department of Transportation. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
Messner, TC. 2011. Acorns and Bitter Roots: Starch Grains in the Prehistoric Eastern Woodlands. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Messner, TC, Dickau, R, Harbison, J. 2008. Starch grain analysis: methodology and applications in the Northeast. In: Hart, JP, editor, Current Northeast Paleoethnobotany II. New York State Museum Bulletin 512. Albany: University of the State of New York. p 111–28.
Michels, JW. 1973. Dating Methods in Archaeology. New York: Seminar Press.
Miyata, Y, Minami, M, Onbe, S, Sakamoto, M, Matsuzaki, H, Nakamura, T, Imamura, M. 2011. Difference in radiocarbon ages of carbonized material from the inner and outer surfaces of pottery from a wetland archaeological site. Proceedings of the Japan Academy. Series B, Physical and Biological Sciences 87(8):518–28.
Mullins, HT, Patterson, WP, Teece, MA, Burnett, AW. 2011. Holocene climate and environmental change in central New York (USA). Journal of Paleolimnology 45(2):243–56.
Parker, AC. 1910. Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants. New York State Museum Bulletin 144. Albany: University of the State of New York.
Philippsen, B. 2008. Old water or high ages? 14C food crust analysis on Mesolithic pottery from northern Germany [Diploma thesis in physics]. Faculty of Physics and Astronomy, University of Heidelberg.
Philippsen, B, Kjeldsen, H, Hartz, S, Paulsen, H, Clausen, I, Heinemeier, J. 2010. The hardwater effect in AMS 14C dating of food crusts on pottery. Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research B 268(7):995–8.
Pigati, JS, Rech, JA, Nekola, JC. 2010. Radiocarbon dating of small terrestrial gastropod shells in North America. Quaternary Geochronology 5(5):519–32.
Rakovan, MT, Rech, JA, Pigati, JS, Nekola, JC, Wiles, GC. 2013. An evaluation of Mesodon and other larger terrestrial gastropod shells for dating late Holocene and historic alluvium in the Midwestern USA. Geomorphology 193:4756.
Raviele, ME. 2010. Assessing carbonized archaeological cooking residues: evaluation of maize phytolith taphonomy and density through experimental residue analysis [PhD dissertation]. Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing.
Reber, EA, Hart, JP. 2008. Pine resins and pottery sealing: analysis of absorbed and visible pottery residues from central New York State. Archaeometry 50(6):9991117.
Roper, DC. 2005. Ceramic period components at the Claussen site, 14WB322, Waubunsee County, Kansas. The Kansas Anthropologist 26:65119.
Roper, DC. 2012. New AMS radiocarbon dating results for Central Plains Tradition sites in Kansas and Nebraska. Plains Anthropologist 57(221):3952.
Roper, DC. 2013. Evaluating the reliability of AMS dates on food residue on pottery from the late prehistoric Central Plains of North America. Radiocarbon 55(1):151–62.
Roper, DC, Adair, MJ. 2011. Interpreting AMS radiocarbon age determinations from selected Central Plains Tradition sites. Plains Anthropologist 56(217):322.
Roper, DC, Adair, MJ. 2012. Additional AMS radiocarbon age determinations for the Central Plains Tradition. Plains Anthropologist 57(221):31–8.
Rosentrater, KA. 2006. A review of corn masa processing residues: generation, properties, and potential utilization. Waste Management 26(3):284–92.
Schiffer, MB, Skibo, JM, Boekle, TC, Neuport, MA, Aronson, M. 1994. New perspectives on experimental archaeology: surface treatments and thermal response of the clay cooking pot. American Antiquity 59(2):197217.
Scott, EM. 2003. The Fourth International Radiocarbon Intercomparison (FIRI). Radiocarbon 45(2):135290.
Shott, MJ. 1992. Radiocarbon dating as a probabilistic technique: the Childers site and Late Woodland occupation in the Ohio Valley. American Antiquity 57(2):202–30.
Siddique, R. 2008. Waste Materials and By-Products in Concrete. Berlin: Springer.
Ward, GK, Wilson, SR. 1978. Procedures for comparing and combining radiocarbon age determinations: a critique. Archaeometry 20(1):1931.
Will, GF, Hyde, GE. 1917. Corn among the Indians of the Upper Missouri. St. Louis: W.H. Miner Co.
Wilson, GL. 1917. Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian Interpretation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
Yu, SY, Shen, J, Colman, SM. 2007. Modeling the radiocarbon reservoir effect in lacustrine systems. Radiocarbon 49(3):1241–54.
Zigah, PK, Minor, EC, Werne, JP. 2012. Radiocarbon and stable-isotope geochemistry of organic and inorganic carbon in Lake Superior. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 26(1):GB1023, doi:10.1029/2011GB004132.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed