Amino acid racemization dating of marine shells: a mound of possibilities

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Shell middens are one of the most important and widespread indicators for human exploitation of marine resources and occupation of coastal environments. Establishing an accurate and reliable chronology for these deposits has fundamental implications for understanding the patterns of human evolution and dispersal. This paper explores the potential application of a new methodology of amino acid racemization(AAR) dating of shell middens and describes a simple protocol to test the suitability of different molluscanspecies. This protocol provides a preliminary test for the presence of an intracrystalline fraction of proteins(by bleaching experiments and subsequent heating at high temperature), checking the closed system behaviour of this fraction during diagenesis. Only species which pass both tests can be considered suitable for further studies to obtain reliable age information. This amino acid geochronological technique is also applied to midden deposits at two latitudinal extremes: Northern Scotland and the Southern Red Sea.Results obtained in this study indicate that the application of this new method of AAR dating of shells has the potential to aid the geochronological investigation of shell mounds in different areas of the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-124
Number of pages11
JournalQuaternary International
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011

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  • Amino acid racemization (AAR)
  • Geochronology
  • iIntracrystalline protein
  • Shell midden
  • Holocene

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