In 14C dating of sediment, the date of deposition is associated with its C age. Most sediments are complex mixtures containing little organic material frequently derived from several sources. The most conspicuous sources of error result from 1) the incorporation of “fossil” carbon (eg, graphite, lignite, etc) into a more recent sediment. This is particularly important in low carbon sediments (Olsson, 1972); 2) the incorporation of older, ‘reworked’ sedimentary material, eg, from terrigenous sources into a lacustrine environment (Schoute, Mook & Streuerman, 1983); 3) the dating of mainly autochthonous material which has metabolized carbon from dissolved bicarbonate carbonates originating from dissolution of fossil.
To provide more information for the 14C ages of components of a sediment, we have used the small sample capability (ie, > = 1 mg carbon) of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator to date specific fractions. Within the limitations of the ‘conventional’ method, different fractions in soils have been the subject of two investigations (Scharpenseel, 1979; Sheppard, Syed & Mehringer, 1979). In general the results show that a measurement on undifferentiated sediment may lead to serious errors in the 14C date, that specific fractions do not guarantee a better date for deposition, but nearly always provide valuable information on the particular history of the individual sediment in relation to its specific context. It is usually possible to estimate the occurrence of the first two sources of error listed above, but more difficult to quantify the extent of terrestrial input and “hard water” error.