More information on dendroarchaeology

  • Since the 1960s the term “dendroarchaeology” has been used for the studies of wooden remains from archaeological contexts. It was, however, mainly limited to dendrochronological dating of wood from archaeological excavations. Today, dendroarchaeology describes a wider scope and plays a key role at the interdisciplinary contact zone between archaeological research and environmental sciences. On the one hand, wooden objects artificially shaped by humans provide information on production technique and further details on species selection and resource management. On the other hand, tree growth obtains information on environmental conditions. Hence, archaeological and historical wood combine information of artifacts and natural products, making them an ideal source for interdisciplinary research on the interaction between human societies and their environment in former times. Modern dendroarchaeology includes palaeoclimatological research questions as well as various issues of forest and vegetation history and history of technology.
  • Wooden remains from the past, i.e. naturally deposited subfossil tree trunks, processed timber and artifacts, are valuable sources for environmental archaeology. Documented wood species, timber cross-sections, stem diameters and individual tree age provide information on aspects of economic history, such as supply with and selection of raw material as well as resource and forest management. Tool marks on the wood surfaces yield information on manufacturing processes for studies on the history of technology. Dendrochronological (tree-ring) analysis provides absolute dating for archaeological and historical constructions with annual precision and has become a standard technique for dating in archaeology, historical buildings research, preservation of monuments and art history with unrivalled high temporal precision. Beyond absolute dating, extracted growth patterns also reveal information on human-environment-relationships. As their annual growth reflects regional climate conditions, archaeological and historical woods contain essential information as a natural archive for paleoclimate research. Large datasets of historical wood, e.g. from large-scale excavations, allow for the reconstruction of regional settlement history and dynamics in high temporal precision. Collaborative efforts with palynological research can improve our understanding in vegetation history and landscape transformation. Wide-ranging syntheses illustrate phases of increasing or decreasing building activities as socio-economic factors. This interdisciplinary research approach generates new insights into the everyday life of past societies.
  • Wood was of great importance for the daily life of past societies and only receded in its key role with the modern development of substitutes. Until the use of fossil fuels, wood was the most important source of energy for various processes from domestic (cooking and heating) as well as production processes (e.g. pottery, charcoal or glass production and metallurgy). Furthermore, up to the industrial era timber was the most important construction material for houses and technical facilities. Ever since the Neolithic period, sedentary societies have constantly covered their demands for wood in near-by woodlands and therefore changed the natural vegetation towards cultural landscapes. At all times, wood use has been closely related to economic and technical innovation.
  • Wood is an organic matter, easily biodegradable by bacteria, fungi and enzymes, respectively. However, in special circumstances wooden structures and objects can be preserved for a long time. The preservation in waterlogged conditions, for example below the groundwater level, is most commonly found in archeological excavations. The permanent absence of air prevents decomposition by aerobic microorganisms and strongly slows down biodegradation. Waterlogged wood can remain preserved for millennia. The external shape of the artifact remains intact and reveals technological details (such as tool marks) and the preserved anatomical structure enables microscopic identification of wood species.