Radiocarbon Dating: Fictitious Results with Mollusk Shells

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Science  16 Aug 1963:
Vol. 141, Issue 3581, pp. 634-637
DOI: 10.1126/science.141.3581.634


Evidence is presented to show that modern mollusk shells from rivers can have anomalous radiocarbon ages, owing mainly to incorporation of inactive (carbon-14-deficient) carbon from humus, probably through the food web, as well as by the pathway of carbon dioxide from humus decay. The resultant effect, in addition to the variable contributions of atmospheric carbon dioxide, fermentative carbon dioxide from bottom muds, and, locally, of carbonate carbon from dissolving limestones, makes the initial carbon-14-activity of ancient fresh-water shell indeterminate, but within limits. Consequent errors of shell radiocarbon dates may be as large as several thousand years for river shells.