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A robust marine radiocarbon (14C) reservoir correction (ΔR) is essential for calibrating 14C dates of marine mollusks and fish bones routinely found in archaeological sites as discarded food remains and bones of terrestrial animals (including humans) with an appreciable marine diet. New ΔR values are reported for the atoll archipelago of the Marshall Islands, eastern Micronesia. Atolls consist of biogenetic material—mostly coral and foraminifera—that can be directly dated for establishing sequences of atoll emergence and islet development. After sectioning and examination using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to screen for sample diagenesis, 6 pristine branch coral samples were selected from the modern oceanside beach, 3 archaeological sites, and islet developmental facies from Ebon Atoll (4º34′N, 168º41′E). Each sample was analyzed by U-series and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C showing no substantial temporal ΔR variations and yielding a weighted mean ΔR of 41±42 yr1 spanning ~500 yr before earliest human colonization (the period when islets first became habitable) through the entire 2000-yr occupation sequence. Reliable published ΔR values for Micronesia and Δ14C data for Palmyra Island, together with our results for Ebon Atoll, indicate that the Pacific North Equatorial Counter Current is almost stable for the past 2500 yr.
Radiocarbon dating of marine samples requires a local marine reservoir correction, or ΔR value, for accurate age calibrations. For the Samoan Archipelago in the central Pacific, ΔR values have been proposed previously, but, unlike some Polynesian archipelagoes, ΔR values seem not to vary spatially and temporally. Here, we demonstrate such variability by reporting a ΔR of –101±72 ΔR for the Manu‘a Group—the eastern-most islands in the archipelago—for the colonization period. This value is based on accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) 14C and uranium-thorium (U-Th) series dating of individual coral branches from pre-2300 cal BP archaeological contexts. This figure differs from the previously proposed modern ΔR of 28±26 yr derived from dated historic, pre-1950, shell samples from the western islands of Samoa. Consequently, we recommend using the ΔR of –101±72 yr for the 1st millennium BC in Manu‘a, and 28±26 yr for calibrating dates within the 2nd millennium AD in the western islands (Savai‘i to Tutuila). Until more data from across the archipelago and from throughout the entire culture-historical sequence document ΔR variability, we recommend that researchers use both of these ΔR values to evaluate how the dates of marine-derived samples compare with AMS dates on identified, short-lived wood charcoal.
The authors show how sites in upland Hawai‘i may be dated using uranium series radiogenic measurements on coral. The sites lie in a quarry, inland and at high altitude, with little carboniferous material around, and radiocarbon dating is anyway problematic here for the first millennium. Freshly broken coral had been transported to these sites, remote from the sea – no doubt for ritual purposes. Giving a date in the fifteenth century with an error range of only five years, the method promises to be valuable for the early history of the Pacific.
The first application of U-series dating and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) assay of Polynesian archaeological Pocillopora spp. branch corals for deriving a precise local marine reservoir correction (ΔR) is described. Known-age corals were selected that spanned the entire culture-historical sequence for the Hawaiian Islands, thus eliminating the problem of not having known-age dated samples that cover the period of direct relevance to prehistorians; in this case, about AD 700–1800. Dating coral samples from windward and leeward coastlines of Moloka'i Island, with different offshore conditions such as upwelling, currents, wind patterns, coastal topography, and straight or embayed shorelines, provides insights into possible variations of local conditions on the same island—something that has never been attempted. In this regard, there was no spatial variability in ΔR during the 17th century. We report a weighted average ΔR value for Moloka'i Island of 52 ± 25 yr using 12 pair-dated dedicatory branch corals from religious archaeological sites and demonstrate that there is no significant temporal variability in ΔR between about AD 700 to 1800. In combination with 4 selected previously published ΔR values based on pre-bomb known-age marine shells, a revised ΔR of 66 ± 54 yr is established for the Hawaiian Islands. However, future research should examine the archipelago-wide spatial variability in ΔR with the analysis of additional dated archaeological coral samples.