Understanding the history of stream erosion and changes in channel morphology is important for managing and restoring unstable streams. One of the significant challenges in this type of research is establishing accurate dating of late Holocene and historic alluvium. Here we evaluate the potential of using 14C dating and amino acid racemization (AAR) to date large terrestrial gastropod shells that are often preserved within alluvial sediments. Many terrestrial gastropods incorporate old carbon from limestone or other carbonate rocks into their shells and therefore are unsuitable for radiocarbon dating. Recent studies, however, have shown that some taxa avoid this ‘limestone problem’ and can yield reliable 14C ages. In this study, we measured the 14C activity of specimens for the genera Mesodon, Ventridens, and Allogona collected live and from alluvial sequences dated independently by dendrochronology, 14C dating of wood, and/or 137Cs analyses. Mesodon zaletus contained old carbon in similar concentrations (up to ~ 30%) found in previous studies of other large taxa and should be avoided for 14C dating when possible. In contrast, shells of Ventridens ligera and Allogona profunda showed minimal limestone effects and therefore may be suitable for dating late Holocene alluvium. These results highlight the importance of taxonomic identification of gastropod taxa prior to their use for 14C dating and demonstrate that shell fragments that are not identifiable should be avoided. We also measured d/l ratios (n = 17) of aspartic and glutamic acid from eight different taxa of terrestrial gastropods recovered from four late Holocene and historic stratigraphic sequences. Average d/l ratios of aspartic and glutamic acid from historic sediments < 300 years old are lower in shells from younger stratigraphic units, indicating that AAR can be used to differentiate between multiple historic stratigraphic units.
Additional publication details
An evaluation of Mesodon and other larger terrestrial gastropod shells for dating late Holocene and historic alluvium in the Midwestern USA
Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center