In coastal and island archaeology, carbonate mollusk shells are often among the most abundant materials available for radiocarbon (14C) dating. The marsh periwinkle (Littorina irrorata) is one of these such species, ubiquitously found along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States in both modern and archaeological contexts. This paper presents a novel approach to dating estuarine mollusks where rather than attempting to characterize the size and variability of reservoir effects to “correct” shell carbonate dates, we describe a compound-specific approach that isolates conchiolin, the organic matter bound with the shell matrix of the L. irrorata. Conchiolin typically constitutes <5% of shell weight. In L. irrorata, it is derived from the snail’s terrestrial diet and is thus not strongly influenced by marine, hardwater, or other carbon reservoir effects. We compare the carbon isotopes (δ13C and Δ14C) of L. irrorata shell carbonate, conchiolin, and bulk soft tissue from six modern, live-collected specimens from Apalachicola Bay, Florida, with samples that represent possible sources of carbon within their environment including surface sediments, marsh plant tissues, and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) in water. Ultimately, this paper demonstrates that samples obtained from wet chemical oxidation of L. irrorata conchiolin produces accurate 14C dates.
- marine reservoir effects
- shell midden