The University of Arizona

14C Dating of Organic Residue and Carbonate from Stromatolites in Etosha Pan, Namibia: 14C Reservoir Effect, Correction of Published Ages, and Evidence of >8-m-Deep Lake During the Late Pleistocene

George A Brook, A Cherkinsky, L Bruce Railsback, Eugene Marais, Martin H T Hipondokae


Lacustrine stromatolites are layered accretionary structures formed in shallow water by cyanobacteria. They are a precise indicator of high lake limits and their morphology and structure provide an insight into paleoenvironments of the time. Previous research on lacustrine stromatolites from Etosha Pan in Namibia based on radiocarbon ages of carbonates were close to the limit of the method and did not account for any possible 14C reservoir effect. The ages were used to suggest that the basin was not extensively flooded during the last 40,000 yr. To assess the reservoir effect, the age characteristics of a stromatolite from Poacher’s Point were investigated by 14C dating both carbonate and organic residue from samples at different depths in the deposit. The ~15-cm-diameter stromatolite was separated into 12 zones from the center to the edge and block samples were cut from each zone; the carbonate and residual organic residue were dated separately. The carbonate ages ranged from 34,700 to 24,700 14C yr BP and the organic ages from 15,700 to 2500 14C yr BP. Ages generally increased with increasing distance from the surface of the deposit. We believe that the organic ages are an accurate estimate of the stromatolite’s age, while the much older carbonate ages reflect incorporation of old carbon from limestone bedrock and ancient calcrete introduced by stream and spring flow. Excluding the 2 oldest organic ages (15,700 and 13,600 14C yr BP), which may reflect contamination by older organic material washed into the lake during flooding, a linear regression relationship between carbonate and organic ages indicates that the reservoir effect on carbonate ranges up to ~24,000 14C yr BP but decreases slightly as the true age of the deposit increases. This regression relationship was used to correct 2 finite carbonate ages for stromatolites from Pelican Island obtained in the early 1980s, which together with our new organic age for a stromatolite from Andoni Bay, document a >8-m-deep lake in Etosha Pan during the Late Pleistocene, at and prior to ~34,000–26,000 cal yr BP. The organic carbon ages from the Poacher’s Point stromatolite suggest prolonged lacustrine conditions during the early to middle Holocene (8000–6600 cal yr BP) but not to the extent seen during the Late Pleistocene.

DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16401


stromatolites, radiocarbon dating, reservoir effect

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