The particular macroscopic growth features of the timbers of Bremen-Cog, a late 14th-century cargo vessel, were the subject of a detailed analysis during the European Research Council (ERC) research project TIMBER at the University of Copenhagen. The unexpected depth of the results of this examination led to the feasibility study presented in this paper, which evaluates the meaning of macroscopic growth features in ship archaeological analyses. In the past, the perception of wood in ship-archaeological analyses often seems to be either ignored or strongly idealised causing macroscopic growth features to be missing in many cases as decisive analytical features. The idea of a shipwright, who personally chooses only the best material, was likely born out of an idealised image of the past and influenced by recent shipbuilding practices. Detailed advice on the choice of high-quality timber for shipbuilding only appeared during the 20th century, long after wood was superseded by steel for most vessels, and the competition for shipbuilding timber on the market had ceased. In some cases, this has produced a somewhat distorted interpretation of ships and shipbuilding. As a holistic approach to features of growth can provide information beyond timber quality, such as environmental influences and human impacts on this resource. In certain cases, such an approach can draw conclusions on economic and social circumstances. The information gathered from building timber can alter the interpretation of boats and ships. This paper discusses the demand for shipbuilding timber and its quality in northwest Europe, and aims to reflect on possible social, economic, or environmental reasons for the shipwright’s choices.
Over the last 30 years, more than 70 pieces of furniture from the Rijksmuseum collection (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) have been dated using dendrochronology. Furniture from the northern Netherlands was seldom dated by the maker and never signed, and only a few documents indicating who and when it was made have survived. Here, we present an overview of the research carried out on 17th-century furniture objects from the Rijksmuseum, with a special focus on the results pertaining to marquetry cabinets produced around the 1700s. We outline the general approach followed to conduct dendrochronological research on cabinets — from the selection of elements to the interpretation of the results. On average, a cabinet consists of fifty to 100 wooden elements. In many of these elements, the end grain is not accessible, and partial dismantling may be required to access the surface and the tree-ring pattern; hence, conscious choices must be made. Seven pieces of furniture are discussed in this paper, including the first cabinet dated by dendrochronology at the Rijksmuseum (the dolls’ house commissioned by Petronella Oortman), a cabinet with inlaid Japanese lacquer panels, and furniture by Jan van Mekeren with intricate marquetry depicting large bouquets of flowers. The results of the dendrochronological research show that the oak used in these cabinets was predominantly sourced in Germany and, to a lesser extent, eastern France. The dates and provenance of the wood were cross-checked with existing art historical dates, which were then refined. The results highlight the added value of dendrochronological analyses of furniture and the contribution of this scientific method to understanding developments in cabinetmaking by chronologically arranging objects made by the same manufacturer. They also point to the need to continue developing and improving regional and local reference tree-ring chronologies to produce more accurate inferences regarding wood provenance.
It is suggested that woodland management (e.g. pollarding, pruning, or coppicing) was practiced from at least the Neolithic onwards. The goal of this work is to discuss woodland management practices in the Early Neolithic waterlogged site of La Draga (5300–4700 cal BC, Banyoles, Spain). To date, different methods and techniques (dendrochronology, roundwood age and diameter, dendrology, etc.) have been applied to address this issue, and some preliminary results have been obtained. However, recent excavations have yielded new wooden archaeological materials which help to approach this issue from another point of view: the presence of scars on the wood surface. For the first time at La Draga, it was possible to identify scars on the wood surface of piles caused by tool marks and partially or totally covered by wound wood ribs, indicating that the trees were marked before being cut down. The marked piles have been identified as laurel (Laurus nobilis) or bay tree, which is well documented at the site (firewood, instruments, and piles), although it played a secondary role after the oak. However, laurel was rarely exploited during the Neolithic in Europe, which poses the question of the intentional selection of this wood at La Draga.
This paper presents the results of a morphological, technological, and dendrological study of laurel piles in the context of the wooden remains of the La Draga site. The results of the different approaches are summarised and contrasted to provide new insights into Neolithic woodland management in Europe. Moreover, the role of laurel trees in the context of the Neolithic is discussed.
The tree-ring lab at BOKU University, Vienna, Austria has been sampling and dating by means of dendrochronology in the eastern part of Austria since 1996. Among other objects, the roof constructions of 982 historical buildings were analysed, resulting in 13 916 samples. The time span extends from the oldest roof truss at a church in Salzburg, dated to 1135, to the youngest in Vienna, dated to 1997. The aim of present paper is to provide an overview of the findings on historical roof constructions in Austria based on data collected over the last 27 years. Out of the total sample elements, 69.0% were made out of Norway spruce, followed by silver fir with 19.6%. All other species played a minor role: pine (5.0%), larch (3.6%), oak (2.7%), followed by a few elements made of stone pine, elm, beech, and poplar. The proportion of wood species reflects the significant influence of alpine regions. Within the city of Vienna, where all building timber was rafted, the amount of spruce wood is 72.3%. There were no clear visible changes in the wood species share over time. Along with dendro-dating, building historians have been analyzing the typology of roof trusses and the changes within time. It was possible to see clear alterations from simple rafter constructions to huge multi-level constructions with standing and sometimes hanging columns and roof constructions with lying posts (in the plane of the rafters) that transition back to constructions with standing columns.
The North Atlantic islands of the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland have always been relatively poor in terms of native timber resources, due to their cold climate and exposed topography. Nevertheless, timber was vital to the material culture of the Norse settlers of these islands, and driftwood often met this need. As in subarctic Norway, where trees are also scarce, driftwood use and ownership were prescribed in medieval law codes. Historical documentary evidence shows that wealthy landowners bought driftwood rights as valuable assets, and ethnohistorical sources reveal a wide range of local and regional customs related to driftwood exploitation. However, driftwood was an unstable resource, and its delivery depended on a range of unpredictable factors related to climate and ocean currents. There is also ongoing debate regarding the relative importance of imported timber, which is for example often referenced in the Icelandic sagas. The use of driftwood is difficult to demonstrate through macroscopic, microscopic, or (geo-)chemical analysis. Similarities in the microscopic anatomy of boreal wood taxa preclude definitive provenancing through taxonomic analysis, and material traces of immersion in seawater are often either impermanent or ambiguous, especially in archaeological wood remains. This paper presents a comprehensive review of current historical and archaeological research on the exploitation of driftwood timber in the Medieval North Atlantic and explores potential future directions in this field. Furthermore, it asserts that this line of research should be pursued with some urgency, as anthropogenic climate change threatens both driftwood delivery and the preservation of archaeological wood remains.
The Världskulturmuseet in Gothenburg (Sweden) has a unique archaeological and ethnographic collection of the Gunadule people (Panama) which has its origins in the late 19th century. Standing out in this collection are the wooden sculptures generally known as nudsugana. Carved into anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms by the Gunadule communities, the nudsugana embody the properties of the trees, humanizing them without changing their nature. A large number of them travelled across the Atlantic Ocean with the Swedish anthropologist Erland Nordenskiöld in 1927 to become part of what was then the Gothenburg Ethnographic Museum. Many others came later, up until the 1970s; today there are over one hundred of them. Some of these carvings have been studied to explore all the possibilities offered by multidisciplinary analysis. In this paper, we explain the methodology used in this study and the first results of what the nusdsugana can tell us about the people, forests, and trees they stem from.
The chemical composition of the wood reflects the composition of the soil over which the corresponding tree has developed. Multi-elemental and isotopic signatures, which are characteristic of the soil and underlying rock substrates, are potentially powerful tools for determining wood provenance. These tracers are of special interest for charred archaeological wood because they circumvent some limitations of dendrochronological provenancing linked to tree-ring loss. However, thermal degradation may introduce a significant bias in wood chemical and isotopic analyses. This experimental study focused on the effects of carbonization temperature on three geochemical wood markers: elemental signatures and isotopic signatures of strontium and neodymium (86Sr/87Sr and 143Nd/144Nd, respectively). Wood specimens from a variety of oak trees and stand locations were pyrolyzed at four temperatures (ranging from 200°C to 800°C) and analyzed using ICP-MS and μ-XRF (X-ray fluorescence) spectroscopy for elemental composition and with multiple collection ICP-MS (MC-ICP-MS) for strontium (Sr) and neodymium (Nd) isotope composition. The concentration of mineral nutrients generally increased with temperature, but the magnitude of the enrichment depended on the element, wood compartment (sapwood vs. heartwood), and geological substrate. The concentrations of rubidium, strontium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, and, to a lesser extent, calcium, were minimally affected by temperature, wood compartment, and substrate. The ratios between the concentrations of these elements, as well as the 86Sr/87Sr and 143Nd/144Nd isotope ratios, were stable over the entire temperature range. However, only 86Sr/87Sr and selected elemental ratios (calcium or magnesium normalized to manganese) were successful for site discrimination. Therefore, our multi-tracer approach provides promising new information to determine the provenance of charred archaeological wood.