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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 October 2018

Andrew Martindale*
Department of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, 6303 N.W. Marine Drive, Vancouver, British Columbia V6 T 1Z1, Canada
Gordon T. Cook
Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, Scottish Enterprise Technology Park, Rankine Avenue, East Kilbride G75 0QF, UK
Iain McKechnie
Department of Anthropology, University of Victoria, Cornett Building, Room B246a, P.O. Box 1700, STN CSC, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 2Y2, Canada; and Hakai Institute, P.O. Box 309, Heriot Bay, British Columbia V0P 1H0, Canada
Kevan Edinborough
University College London, 31–34 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PY, UK
Ian Hutchinson
Department of Geography, 8888 University Drive, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia V5A 1S6, Canada
Morley Eldridge
Millennia Research Limited, 501 Alpha Street, Victoria, British Columbia V8Z 1B2, Canada
Kisha Supernant
Department of Anthropology, University of Alberta, 13–15 Tory Building, Edmonton, Alberta T6 G 2H4, Canada
Kenneth M. Ames
Department of Anthropology, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207, USA
(, corresponding author)


The best method for quantifying the marine reservoir effect (MRE) using the global IntCal Marine13 calibration curve remains unresolved. Archaeologists frequently quantify uncertainty on MRE values as errors computed from single pairs of marine-terrestrial radiocarbon ages, which we argue significantly overstates their accuracy and precision. Here, we review the assumptions, methods, and applications of estimating MRE via an estimate of the additional regional offset between the marine and terrestrial calibration curves (ΔR) for the Prince Rupert Harbour (PRH) region of British Columbia, Canada. We acknowledge the influence on ΔR of MRE variation as (1) a dynamic oceanographic process, (2) its variable expression in biochemical and geochemical pathways, and (3) compounding errors in sample selection, measurement, and calculation. We examine a large set of marine-terrestrial pairs (n = 63) from PRH to compare a common archaeological practice of estimating uncertainty from means that generate an uncertainty value of ±49 years with a revised, more appropriate estimate of error of ± 230 years. However, we argue that the use of multiple-pair samples estimates the PRH ΔR as 273 ± 38 years for the last 5,000 years. Calculations of error that do not consider these issues may generate inaccurate age estimates with unjustifiable precision.

El mejor método para cuantificar el efecto reservorio marino (MRE, por sus siglas en inglés) usando la curva global de calibración IntCal Marine 13 permanece sin resolver. Los arqueólogos frecuentemente cuantifican la incertidumbre en valores del MRE como errores calculados a partir de pares únicos de edades radiocarbónicas marinas y terrestres que, sostenemos, sobrevaloran significativamente su exactitud y precisión. Aquí revisamos las suposiciones, métodos y aplicaciones para estimar el MRE a través de una estimación de la compensación regional adicional entre las curvas de calibración marinas y terrestres (ΔR) para la región de Prince Rupert Harbour (PRH) en Columbia Británica, Canadá. Reconocemos la influencia sobre el ΔR de variaciones del MRE como (1) un proceso oceanográfico dinámico, (2) su expresión variable en caminos bioquímicos y geoquímicos que producen muestras para datación 14C por AMS y (3) errores compuestos en la selección de muestras, mediciones y cálculos. Examinamos un amplio conjunto de pares marinos-terrestres (n = 63) procedentes de PRH para comparar la práctica arqueológica común de estimar la incertidumbre a partir de promedios que generan un valor de incertidumbre de ±49 años, con una estimación de error revisada, más apropiada, de ±230 años. Este acercamiento estima el ΔR de PRH en 273 ± 38 años para los últimos 5,000 años. Los cálculos de error que no consideran estas cuestiones pueden generar estimaciones inexactas de edad con precisiones injustificables.

Copyright © 2018 by the Society for American Archaeology 

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