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Revised calendar date for the Taupo eruption derived by ¹⁴C wiggle-matching using a New Zealand kauri ¹⁴C calibration data set

Taupo volcano in central North Island, New Zealand, is the most frequently active and productive rhyolite volcano on Earth. Its latest explosive activity about 1800 years ago generated the spectacular Taupo eruption, the most violent eruption known in the world in the last 5000 years. We present here a new accurate and precise eruption date of AD 232 ± 5 (1718 ± 5 cal. BP) for the Taupo event. This date was derived by wiggle-matching 25 high-precision ¹⁴C dates from decadal samples of Phyllocladus trichomanoides from the Pureora buried forest near Lake Taupo against the high-precision, first-millennium AD subfossil Agathis australis (kauri) calibration data set constructed by the Waikato Radiocarbon Laboratory. It shows that postulated dates for the eruption estimated previously from Greenland ice-core records (AD 181 ± 2) and putative historical records of unusual atmospheric phenomena in ancient Rome and China (c. AD 186) are both untenable. However, although their conclusion of a zero north–south ¹⁴C offset is erroneous, and their data exhibit a laboratory bias of about 38 years (too young), Sparks et al. (Sparks RJ, Melhuish WH, McKee JWA, Ogden J, Palmer JG and Molloy BPJ (1995) ¹⁴C calibration in the Southern Hemisphere and the date of the last Taupo eruption: Evidence from tree-ring sequences. Radiocarbon 37: 155–163) correctly utilized the Northern Hemisphere calibration curve of Stuiver and Becker (Stuiver M and Becker B (1993) High-precision decadal calibration of the radiocarbon timescale, AD 1950–6000 BC. Radiocarbon 35: 35–65) to obtain an accurate wiggle-match date for the eruption identical to ours but less precise (AD 232 ± 15). Our results demonstrate that high-agreement levels, indicated by either agreement indices or χ² data, obtained from a ¹⁴C wiggle-match do not necessarily mean that age models are accurate. We also show that laboratory bias, if suspected, can be mitigated by applying the reservoir offset function with an appropriate error value (e.g. 0 ± 40 years). Ages for eruptives such as Taupo tephra that are based upon individual ¹⁴C dates should be considered as approximate only, and confined ideally to short-lived material (e.g. seeds, leaves, small branches or the outer rings of larger trees).
Journal Article
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Hogg, A.G., Lowe, D.J., Palmer, J., Boswijk, G. & Ramsey, C.B. (2011). Revised calendar date for the Taupo eruption derived by ¹⁴C wiggle-matching using a New Zealand kauri ¹⁴C calibration data set. The Holocene, published online November 22, 2011.