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14C Marine Reservoir Variability in Herbivores and Deposit-Feeding Gastropods from an Open Coastline, Papua New Guinea

Fiona Petchey, Sean Ulm, Bruno David, Ian J McNiven, Brit Asmussen, Helen Tomkins, Thomas Richards, Cassandra Rowe, Matthew Leavesley, Herman Mandui, John Stanisic

Abstract


Herbivorous and deposit-feeding gastropods are a major component of archaeological shell middens worldwide. They provide a wealth of information about subsistence, economy, environment, and climate, but are generally considered to be less than ideal for radiocarbon dating because they can ingest sediment while they graze, inadvertently consuming terrestrial carbon in the process. However, few studies of 14C activity in herbivores or deposit-feeding gastropods have been conducted into this diverse range of animals that inhabit many environmental niches. Here, we present results investigating 14C variability in shells belonging to the families Strombidae and Potamididae from the Bogi 1 archaeological site, Caution Bay, southern coastal Papua New Guinea (PNG). These shells make up 39.3% of the shell MNI [minimum number of individuals] in the excavation units studied and some of these species are the most common taxa of neighboring sites. It would therefore be advantageous to establish if there are any 14C offsets associated with such animals, and identify those that can give reliable calendar ages. Our methodology combines a high-resolution excavation protocol, selection of short-lived samples identified to species level, and a tri-isotope approach using 14C, δ13C, and δ18O to evaluate the source of variability in shells. Our results indicate that considerable variation exists between different species of Strombidae with some inhabiting muddier environments that act as sinks for limestone-derived sediments with depleted 14C content. The magnitude of variation is, however, overshadowed by that measured in the mudwhelk, Cerithidea largillierti, which has the largest spread in 14C of any shellfish studied so far at Caution Bay. This animal ingests sediment within the estuary that contains 14C derived from both enriched and depleted sources.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.v54i3–4.16041


Keywords


Radiocarbon, Marine reservoir correction, Strombidae, Potamididae, Caution Bay, Papua New Guinea

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