A period of calm in Scottish seas: a comprehensive study of ΔR values for the northern British Isles coast and the consequent implications for archaeology and oceanography

Russell, N., Cook, G. T. , Ascough, P. L. and Scott, E. M. (2015) A period of calm in Scottish seas: a comprehensive study of ΔR values for the northern British Isles coast and the consequent implications for archaeology and oceanography. Quaternary Geochronology, 30(Pt. A), pp. 34-41. (doi: 10.1016/j.quageo.2015.08.001)

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The Marine Radiocarbon Reservoir Effect (MRE) is a 14C age offset between contemporaneous marine- and terrestrially-derived carbon. In Northern Hemisphere surface waters it is of the order of 400 years but temporal and spatial deviations, known as ΔR, occur. This study provides a comprehensive dataset of 21 ΔR and MRE values for the east coast of Scotland and 21 recalculated values for the west coast of Scotland and Ireland, for the period c. 3500 BC to 1450 AD. They are presented as mean, site-specific ΔR and MRE values, together with their associated uncertainties, calculated as standard errors for predicted values. The ΔR values range from -320 ± 35 to +150 ± 28 14C years and show no spatial or temporal trends. The MRE values range from 59 ± 40 to 531 ± 26, show an almost identical distribution pattern to the ΔR values and again show no spatial or temporal trends. Results show that ΔR values calculated for a single site using statistically indistinguishable groups of terrestrial and marine radiocarbon age measurements can produce variability of up to 225 14C years. ΔR is an important factor in the accurate calibration of samples containing marine-derived carbon for archaeological interpretation but is often also used as an indicator of changes in 14C specific activity of the oceans, and therefore a proxy for changes in ocean circulation and/or climate. Using the methods outlined in this paper, it is apparent that ΔR values for the northern part of the British Isles have been relatively stable, within our ability to quantify non-random variation in the data. The fact that significant climatic shifts have been recorded during this time, yet these are not visible in the ΔR data, presents a cautionary tale regarding the use of ΔR to infer large-scale oceanographic or climatic changes. Upon the exclusion of 5 outliers from the 42 values, the remaining ΔR values are statistically indistinguishable from one another and range from -142 ± 61 to +40 ± 47 14C years. 34 of these values are from Scottish archaeological sites and can be combined to produce a mean value for Scotland of -47 ± 52 14C years for the period 3500 BC to 1450 AD, to be used only in the absence of site- and period-specific data.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:NERC funding Grant Ref. NE/F002211/1 acknowledged.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Cook, Professor Gordon and Scott, Professor Marian and Ascough, Dr Philippa and Russell, Dr Nicola
Authors: Russell, N., Cook, G. T., Ascough, P. L., and Scott, E. M.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Mathematics and Statistics > Statistics
College of Science and Engineering > Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre
Journal Name:Quaternary Geochronology
ISSN (Online):1878-0350
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2015 Elsevier
First Published:First published in Quaternary Geochronology 2015
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.

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