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According to most geological and geomorphological studies, the maximal advance of the Würmian glaciers in the French Alps occurred at least before 40 ka bp and cannot be dated by 14C. Scientists believed that this dating method could be used for dating the last glacial advance and late deglaciation in the region. The scarce and scattered 14C dating results available from geological samples do not confirm an early (ca. 18 or 20 ka bp) age for the total cooling of the ice nor do they prove that residual ice sheets remained at low elevations. Attempting to solve this chronological problem, we compiled current archaeological knowledge of the oldest Late Paleolithic sites. A review of their 14C results shows that no site older than 15 ka bp (with Gravettian, Solutrean or early Magdalenian industries) can be found east of the Saône-Rhône Valley, even at low elevations. Only rare sites, dated to ca. 14.5 ka bp, may be found close to the mountain regions that were suddenly occupied around the beginning of the Bølling period (ca. 13.5 ka bp). Thus, it seems that the eastern Alps offer no evidence for direct association between glacial retreat and human settlement or simultaneous occurrence in early or late deglaciated areas.
Origins of carbon in potsherds are studied through field experiments which involve firing pots containing selected components and laboratory analyses. As temper seems to be the main source of carbon, radiocarbon dates may be too old if calcium carbonate is used. We can avoid the carbon from the clay by low-temperature burning of samples.
The general reliability of 14C dating in archaeology induced us to try to extend the method to other datable materials that may be uncovered, even those which have till now been neglected or considered unreliable. Improvements in AMS techniques will also help us date very small samples or those with low carbon content. For these reasons we have undertaken a systematic study of the application of 14C dating to potsherds which are usually abundant in prehistoric sites and often more representative of human activity than other materials such as charcoal (Evin, 1983).
This list includes most of the measurements made since the beginning of the compilation of our previous list (R, 1983, v 25, p 59–126), in 1982 and 1983, as well as some earlier measurements of extended geologic or archaeologic studies.
This list includes most of the measurements made in 1979 through 1981 and some values obtained during preceding years. The reporting of results, their calculation (half-life: 5570 ± 0, standard 13C correction only for bones), and the dilution ratios are as previously described in Lyon VIII (R, 1979, v 21, p 402–452).
Contamination by recent carbon and the turnover of organic matter make dating of ancient soils difficult. In order to isolate the oldest organic fraction of sediments, two main extraction methods were previously proposed: 1) alkaline solubilization of humus that separates humins, humic acids, and fulvic acids, and 2) successive hydrolyses that solubilize increasingly resisting products. Both preparation methods were tested on the same actual or fossil soils of different pedologic types from five geologic profiles on which other chronologic data are available.
Analytic results show that 14C ages obtained from alkaline extraction products differ according to the duration of treatments and characteristics of soils: while hydrolysis should yield more homogeneous results and isolate oldest fractions. It seems likely that true ages of geologic formations were never obtained from their organic matter and that the oldest organic fraction, contemporaneous with the sediment formation, completely disappears. Thus, most ages from 14C dating of organic matter of soils must be too recent.
Mollusks living only on ground surface can be expected to give the most reliable results in 14C dating from carbonates of continental origin. One may assume they have a homogeneous biotope and are not affected by any hard-water effect. In order to verify these assumptions and to test shells as routine dating material, results from terrestrial gastropods are compared with other 14C dates from classic biologic material, such as peat, charcoal, or bone, collected in the same archaeologic or geologic levels in miscellaneous places. Two sites were selected for which other chronologic data, such as prehistoric industries or malacologic diagrams were available.
All results indicate older values for 14C shell dates. The discrepancy between “normal” and snail dates amounts to 300 to 1200 14C years and remains the same whatever the absolute age of the sample. All 13C values of perfectly cleaned shells are between —5 to —10%, versus PDB. The initial 14C content of shells that is too low may be different according to species, as suggested by 13C variations.
Although fairly constant, this deviation of 14C ages generally makes such samples unreliable for most archaeologic studies, which often need more precise results. However, some measurements were performed on microfauna shells from several Würmian loess to show that dating of shells may be useful in fairly ancient geologic sediments for lack of better carbonaceous samples. Good agreement of some snail dates with expected sediment ages point to the importance of proper sample selection and pretreatment that might be checked by 13C measurements.
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