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Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Professor Mike Church

Ascough P L, Cook G T, Church M J, Dunbar E, Einarsson Á, McGovern T H, Dugmore A J, Perdikaris S, Hastie H, Friðriksson A & Gestsdóttir H (2010). Temporal and spatial variations in freshwater 14C reservoir effects: Lake Mývatn, northern Iceland. Radiocarbon 52(2-3): 1098-1112.

Author(s) from Durham


Lake Mývatn is an interior highland lake in northern Iceland that forms a unique ecosystem of international scientific importance and is surrounded by a landscape rich in archaeological and palaeoenvironmental sites. A significant Freshwater 14C Reservoir Effect (FRE) has been identified in carbon from the lake at some Norse (c.870-1000 AD) archaeological sites in the wider region (Mývatnssveit). Previous AMS measurements indicated this FRE was ~1500-1900 14C years. Here we present the results of a study using stable isotope and 14C measurements to quantify the Mývatn FRE for both the Norse and modern periods. This work has identified a temporally variable FRE that is greatly in excess of previous assessments. New, paired samples of contemporaneous bone from terrestrial herbivores and omnivores (including humans) from Norse sites demonstrate at least some omnivore diets incorporated sufficient freshwater resources to result in a herbivore-omnivore age offset of up to 400 14C yrs. Modern samples of benthic detritus, aquatic plants, zooplankton, invertebrates and freshwater fish indicate an FRE in excess of 5000 14C yrs in some species. Likely geothermal mechanisms for this large FRE are discussed, along with implications for both chronological reconstruction and integrated investigation of stable and radioactive isotopes.