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.
In Scandinavia and Finland, nearly all constructions, including monumental and sacral architecture, used only timber until the 11th century. In Finland, timber remained the dominant construction material until the 19th century. Due to many fires, wars, and other catastrophic events, the number of still-standing wooden buildings and constructions erected before industrialization is very limited. Medieval wooden buildings can only be found in archaeological excavations, and the last remaining medieval load-bearing wooden structures are preserved in the medieval stone churches. While medieval roof constructions have been widely researched elsewhere in Europe, a comprehensive understanding of medieval roof constructions in Finland is largely lacking. This article presents an ongoing study of roof structures in Finnish medieval stone churches, focusing on two churches, Pernaja and Hammarland, which provide evidence of the transition from tie beam roof trusses to roof trusses without a tie beam. We examine the typology of the trusses, and present new results based on a comparison of the churches and dendrochronological analyses. Finally, we discuss possible explanations for the structural innovations and the emergence of the roof truss without a tie beam in a wider cultural context.
Roof construction is a key element while documenting and studying building traditions in historical towns. In the city centre of Ghent (Belgium), numerous roofs of large monuments (churches, merchants’ halls, town halls) as well as historical houses from the pre-industrial era are still in place. Tree-ring research has been carried out on several intact roof constructions since the 1990s. The dated roofs range from the mid-13th to the 17th century. Recent research has revealed the presence of historical roofs in the church of St. Nicholas, an iconic building in the city’s historical centre. Tree-ring research has dated the roof constructions of the nave and the choir to the first and second quarters of the 13th century, which makes them the oldest preserved examples of carpentry in Ghent and among the oldest in Flanders (northern Belgium). These and other such dating results for the Ghent region allow for the development of a typology for (late) medieval and early modern roof constructions and provide context for a better understanding of the procurement, trade, and transport of building timber from the early 13th century to the early modern era.
Mummy labels are relics found in large quantities in Egypt, often in an excellent state of preservation (like most woods preserved in arid environments). As a result, they are widespread in Roman Egyptian collections of many museums. These labels reflect funerary practices that possess Egyptian and Roman influences and are an important source of historical and archaeological information. These corpora of mummy labels offer several possibilities for investigation. The inscriptions on these labels have been the subject of an international project (Death on the Nile) in which all accessible objects were recorded in a database. However, the potential of these funerary objects extend beyond the inscriptions to the methods of manufacturing and cutting, the choice of species used, and their dendrochronological potential to better define their chronology and possibly their provenance. The study of mummy labels allows us to propose a new typology, some forms of which seem to be limited to certain necropolises. Mummy labels, whether made by the family of the deceased or by specific workshops, show that their realizations vary greatly, ranging from coarse specimens to others with beautiful detailing. They are made from endemic as well as imported species, which are symbolic of long-distance trade, especially for conifer trees, which are well represented. Their dendrochronological potential has also been demonstrated in numerous studies, some of which have allowed the identification of labels from the same tree, supported by inscriptions attesting to the same family relationship.
This study combines standard dendrochronological analyses with network science and spatial analysis to determine the provenance of wood used to build river barges in the Roman period. The river barges studied were found in the Lower Rhine region and would have carried bulk goods, such as grain, military supplies, and building materials. The importance of these vessels in the supply of the local economy and military units is evident since many were found in the area, including some in the vicinity of military complexes. However, it remains unknown where these ships were built and how and where the raw materials for their construction were obtained. To better understand the provenance of the wood, network science was applied to visualise and understand the complex patterns of similarity between the tree-ring curves. For the interpretation of the networks we have studied the context, the position of the trees in the network and the use of these trees in shipbuilding. In addition, the shape of the converted timber was used to visualise the wood use patterns in this type of Roman-period shipbuilding. For the river barges, we were able to determine several possible regions for wood procurement. Based on the analysed material, we assume that there was at least one shipyard in the Lower Rhine region where two ships, found in separate excavations, were most likely produced at the same time.
The marking and branding of oak panel painting supports is a well-known practice in art-production centers of the Southern Netherlands, such as Antwerp in the 16th and 17th centuries. Conversely, information about the activities and regulations of 17th-century panel makers in the Northern Netherlands is scant and has hitherto never been thoroughly researched. Here, we present our research on a panel maker who sold his products to painters within the Dutch Republic. He stamped his house mark, consisting of two letters ‘M’ above each other and crowned by the cipher ‘4’, into the back of his panels. This mark has been found on panels from several painters active between 1632 and 1648. To narrow down the location of the unknown panel maker’s workshop, the source of the wood and the eventual interrelationships between the boards he used for the panels were investigated. In addition, the painters who painted on his supports were studied. This paper presents a novel dendrochronological examination of eight of his twenty-three known panels, combined with art historical research into the works of his customers. We propose that Rotterdam could have been the location of the panel maker’s workshop, based on the Baltic provenance of the wood of the panels, the painters who used them, and the supply of timber to the Dutch Republic in the first half of the 17th century. Our understanding of the panel maker’s practices in the 17th century is increased by this interdisciplinary attempt to unravel an unknown Dutch panel maker and his practice. To comprehend the complexity of the booming art market of the 17th-century Netherlands, further research into Dutch frame- and panel-makers and their regulations and practices is urgently needed.
Excavations in 2008–2009 in Hungate, York, UK, conducted by the York Archaeological Trust (now York Archaeology) revealed the waterlogged timbers of another building of a type best known from Coppergate. This building, dating to the third quarter of the 10th century CE, was superficially of the same construction as seen earlier at Coppergate, consisting of a rectangular pit cut into the ground lined with posts that supported a boarded outer lining. At Coppergate, the timbers were largely freshly felled specifically for the buildings in which they were found, and the tree ring sequences were local to the York region. However, at Hungate, when the timbers were lifted, it was immediately apparent that the board lining was made up of reused articulated slabs from a clinker-built boat. Moreover, the type of clinker construction was unusual and not of the “typical” Northwest European/Scandinavian type. Dendrochronological samples allowed the identification of potential sources of boat timbers, which were not local to York. This paper considers the evidence provided by the study of woodworking technology and the work done to identify the type of boat, its potential provenance, and the provenance of the timber used in its construction.
The Late Medieval and Early Modern periods in the Netherlands are marked by an upsurge in the production, use and repurposing of casks in cities. This is inextricably linked with the growing marine and riverine trade markets and the increase in artisan production. Casks have been found on shipwrecks, where they were used as containers for merchandise (primary purpose) and in urban areas, where they were repurposed as shafts for wells or cesspits (secondary purpose). As a result, the initial production phase of the lifecycle of casks often remained undetected. This study aims to generate an overview of the dendrochronological studies conducted in the past decades by Dutch dendrochronologists on casks from Dutch archaeological context, in which the felling year of the wood used to construct the casks can be dated from the 12th to 18th centuries, to gain insight into their production by coopers. The first objective is to better understand the diverse provenance areas detected in the coopers’ timber, after which the diachronic developments in the use of the timber from specific provenance areas can be addressed. The main objective is to assess whether it is possible to distinguish locally produced casks from casks used to import merchandise, which was successful in some cases. In addition to the dendrochronological and archaeological data, archival sources were used to contextualize and substantiate the analyses and interpretations.
Between 2006 and 2022 dendrochronological research on buildings was conducted in the historical inner city of Amsterdam with the aim to obtain knowledge about the dating of structures and increase knowledge about the use of wood, its origin, and the timber market in the past. This study highlights three topics: (1) house building in Amsterdam and the transition from oak to pine for construction timber around 1600, which led to new solutions in the construction of houses; (2) the availability of timber with various provenances in the local market and the varied applications of different timber products in construction; (3) the methodological implications of dendrochronology for building historical research. The question to be addressed is the extent to which dendrochronological research provides new knowledge about the building history of an entire city. The significance and quality of this material source was compared with written sources, showing that dendrochronological research can lead to new interpretations of archival material.