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The magnitude of error in conventional bulk-sediment radiocarbon dates from central North America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Eric C. Grimm
Illinois State Museum, Research and Collections Center, 1011 East Ash Street, Springfield, IL 62703, USA
Louis J. Maher Jr.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Madison, WI 53706, USA
David M. Nelson
University of Illinois, Institute for Genomic Biology, 1206 West Gregory Drive, Urbana, IL 61801, USA
E-mail address:


Although the carbon-reservoir problem with bulk-sediment radiocarbon dates from lakes has long been recognized, many synoptic studies continue to use chronologies derived from such dates. For four sites in central North America, we evaluate chronologies based on conventional radiocarbon dates from bulk sediment versus chronologies based on accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dates from terrestrial plant macrofossils. The carbon-reservoir error varies among sites and temporally at individual sites from 0 to 8000 yr. An error of 500–2000 yr is common. This error has important implications for the resolution of precise event chronologies.

Research Article
University of Washington

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1 Current address: Appalachian Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, 301 Braddock Rd., Frostburg, MD 21532, USA.


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