Key wordsLesser Antilles
Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract Heavy rainfall and dense vegetation on tropical volcanoes produce abundant carbonized wood in pyroclastic deposits, in addition to easy contamination of this wood by root systems and soluble humic material. Because the physical nature of the charcoal varies, some samples are more prone to contamination. Two independent studies of the same volcano, Mt Liamuiga on St Kitts in the Lesser Antilles, sometimes using samples from the same carbonized tree, yielded a systematic difference in radiocarbon ages. An exchange of samples and a re-investigation of three physically distinct types of charcoal yielded the following results. Rare, hard, dense charcoal, lacking contamination, which had yielded a spurious age of 2860 years bp, was redated at 1845±58 years bp. Common soft, friable charcoal with good cellular structure proved to be susceptible to contamination. A field decontamination technique utilized by one group seems significant as it yields older ages than when only routine laboratory pre-treatment was used, indicating that the latter technique only partly removes the dried and hard residue produced by the decomposition of modern plant rootlets. A previous date of 24 870 years bp obtained from powdery charcoal in a horizon beneath the Mansion 'Series' contradicted ages older than 41 000 years bp from common friable charcoal in the lower Mansion 'Series'. The soft powdery charcoal was re-investigated using a sample collected a few centimeters from the original, although field decontamination of this sample was not possible, more extensive laboratory treatment yielded an age of ca. 43 000 years bp, again proving that routine laboratory pre-treatments are inadequate. A revised geochronology for the Mansion 'Series' is described and a cautionary discussion is presented for the benefit of investigators using radiocarbon ages to date volcanic deposits.
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