Glacial Lake Agassiz has been implicated as the trigger for numerous episodes of abrupt climate change at the close of the last ice age, yet the beginning age of the lake has never been determined. Here we report the first numerical age data on the Big Stone Moraine and the oldest beaches of glacial Lake Agassiz. Organic remains from lakes, bogs, and channels distal to, and inset to, the Big Stone Moraine require that glacial activity at this moraine ceased prior to 12,000 14C yr B.P. (13,950 cal [calendar] yr). A site near New Effington, South Dakota (United States), implies full glacial recession north of the topographic divide prior to 11,810 14C yr B.P. (13,670 cal yr), synchronous with the beginning of glacial Lake Agassiz. Lake Agassiz shorelines inset to the moraine yield optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages from 14,200–12,600 yr cal. Lower strandlines are younger, but the similarity of ages suggests that initial lake lowering was faster than OSL ages can currently resolve. Nevertheless, the OSL ages represent the first numerical age assignments for the Herman, Norcross, and Upham beach ridges, setting the stage for future numerical age assignments within the Lake Agassiz basin. These two dating methods yield strongly consistent results within stated uncertainties. The age of the Big Stone Moraine implies an interval of rapid retreat for the Des Moines lobe of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the Bölling-Alleröd warm interval. The overlapping ages for the uppermost beach levels and abandonment of the highest Lake Agassiz spillway indicate a rapidly evolving lake until at least 13,500 yr cal.

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