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Potential Pitfalls of Pollen Dating

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2016

Thomas Neulieb
Geography Department and Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre, McGill University, 805 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 0B9, Canada
Elisabeth Levac*
Geography Department and Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre, McGill University, 805 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 0B9, Canada Department of Environmental Studies, Bishop's University, 2600 College Street, Sherbrooke, Quebec J1M 1Z7, Canada
John Southon
Earth System Science Department, University of California, B321 Croul Hall, Irvine, California 92697-3100, USA
Michael Lewis
Geological Survey of Canada Atlantic, Natural Resources Canada, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Box 1006, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B2Y 4A2, Canada
I Florin Pendea
Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, Lakehead University – Orillia Campus, 500 University Avenue, Orillia, Ontario L3V0B9, Canada
Gail L Chmura
Geography Department and Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre, McGill University, 805 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 0B9, Canada
Corresponding author. Email:


Pollen extracted from ocean and wetland sediments cored from the eastern Canadian Margin, James Bay region, and Atlantic provinces of Canada have been radiocarbon dated and results are reported here. Pollen dates from ocean sediments were compared with marine carbonate (mollusk shells or foraminifera) dates from the same core levels, dates for which validity was assessed via correlations with other cores, and for which reworking has been excluded. Pollen samples from 3 tidal wetlands were taken from levels dated with 137Cs and 210Pb profiles. Pollen dates from 2 additional wetlands were compared with 14C dates of botanical macrofossils. Most pollen dates disagree with 14C dates based on macrofossils or carbonates, with age differences typically exceeding 250 yr and reaching 4000 yr in one instance. In some cores, pollen dates show age reversals. Significant proportions of reworked pollen grains in ocean and wetland samples are associated with pollen dates that are too old. Prolonged core storage could result in pollen 14C ages that are too young, possibly because of growth of fungi or other microbes, but more work is needed to verify this hypothesis. Despite the problems we encountered, some pollen dates are consistent with other 14C dates from the same core levels, suggesting this dating method can work, but at present, more work is needed to understand the conflicting results obtained.

Radiocarbon Reservoir Effects
Copyright © 2013 by the Arizona Board of Regents on behalf of the University of Arizona 

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