Session 4: Forest history


Exploring the significance, acquisition and use of wooden resources between Norse Greenland and North America: a (re)examination of literary and archaeological sources

Elie Pinta1

1Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, France – UMR 8096.

Since prehistoric times, archaeological data reveal that wherever forests are to be found, wood and timber are used to make furniture, to construct buildings and ways of transportation, or as a fuel source. While forestry practices, woodworking strategies or fuel gathering can be studied through the archaeological records, historical documents are also filled with information regarding the significance, acquisition, and use of wooden resources.

For example, much of the Scandinavian peninsula was forested during the medieval period when Vikings, and the later Norse, made the exploitation and transformation of wood and timber one of their most distinguished crafts. Even during their migrations across the tree-poor North Atlantic islands, Norse settlers kept relying heavily on wooden materials for everyday use. Around AD 1000, as stated in the so called Vínland Sagas, and supported by the findings at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland, the Greenlandic Norse explored part of the North American Atlantic coast, another heavily forested area. Having been recognized as partly fictional, the Sagas - as well as other literary descriptions – can sometimes be treated with caution regarding their historical accuracy. However, they also are filled with ecological descriptions and technical information regarding the exploitation of resources. Furthermore, archaeological data is sometimes scarce or difficult to interpret due to methodological limitations. Confronting both the textual and archaeological data provides a more comprehensive understanding of wood culture in the Norse Greenlandic world.


Reconstruction of economic resources associated with timber building architecture in early medieval urban Trondheim

Anna Helena Petersén1

1Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage (NIKU), Trondheim, Norway.

Timber buildings form a substantial part of the built environment in medieval Scandinavia, both in rural and urban contexts. Because of often favorable preservation conditions for organic material in urban contexts, architectural remains are often encountered in the excavated archaeological material from Norway’s medieval towns. The past building heritage can be reconstructed using archaeological sources, cultural-historical information and expertise found in traditional timber craftsmanship. Analyses of the volume of timber utilised in buildings in urban contexts, and the types and development of construction techniques used are important factors to be considered in discussions of what an urban economy in medieval Norway consisted of. However, timber as a natural resource is seldom included in studies of urban medieval economy from an archaeological perspective. This presentation uses the secular wooden architecture in early medieval Trondheim (AD 950-1150) as a case to illustrate timber’s role as an economic resource, and highlights aspects of the socioeconomic organisation the early urban Trondheim retrieved from remains of the secular wooden architecture regarding access to timber, volumes of timber used, and types of labour and skills employed.


A dendroecological reconstruction of forest management history in Mediterranean Abies pinsapo forests

Linar Akhmetzyanov1, Raúl Sánchez-Salguero1, Pablo Casas-Gómez1, Víctor Lechuga2, Benjamín Viñegla2, J. Julio Camarero3, José I. Seco1, José R. Guzmán Álvarez4, José A. Carreira2, Juan C. Linares1

1DendrOlavide, Depto. de Sistemas Físicos, Químicos y Naturales, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Sevilla, Spain. 2 Departamento de Biología Animal, Vegetal y Ecología, Universidad de Jaén, Jaén, Spain. 3 Instituto Pirenaico De Ecología, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (IPE-CSIC), Zaragoza, Spain. 4 Dirección General del Medio Natural, Biodiversidad y Espacios Protegidos. Consejería de Agricultura, Ganadería y Desarrollo Sostenible. Junta de Andalucía, Sevilla, Spain.

Past disturbances related to forest-use history remain poorly understood in long-term related Moroccan and Spanish fir forests. Here we investigated tree recruitment, growth trends and abrupt changes in tree-ring series of old-living trees since early 17th century in four representative stands: Abies pinsapo in Grazalema and Sierra de las Nieves (Spain) and A. marocana and A. tazaotana in Talassemtane (Morocco). Retrospective dendrochronological analyses were supported by documentary sources reporting changes in forest management and land-use during the past 300 years. Age structures of each site were discontinuous in time and revealed different cohorts distributed in even-aged aggregated patches. Our results showed growth releases related to past logging during the 18th, 19th and the early 20th century in Spain and Morocco. Limited tree establishment from the 1940s to 1960s agreed with intense herd grazing in Spain. Land-use changes leading to grazing and logging limitations resulted in forest encroachment. The observed patterns in growth releases allowed us to identify synchronous past radial-growth releases due to forest management. Tree-ring series have shown lower sensitivity to external disturbances, due to strong drought susceptibility of Abies pinsapo, reflected in “blue data”. Past intensive selective cutting of the fir forest might also be reflected in local historical buildings, opening new perspectives for dendroarchaeological studies in the area.


Wood for funerary pyres in Barcino (Barcelona, NE Iberian Peninsula): investigating cremation structures in two necropolis (1st-3rd centuries CE) starting from charcoal analysis

Sabrina Bianco1, 2, Ethel Allué1, 3, Santiago Riera Mora4, Emiliano Hinojo5, Carme Miró Alaix6

1Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA), Tarragona, Spain. 2 Department of History and Archaeology, Faculty of Geography and History, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain. 3 Department of History and Art History, University Rovira and Virgili, Tarragona, Spain. 4 Seminaris d’Estudis i Recerques Prehistòriques research group (SERP), Department of History and Archaeology, Faculty of Geography and History, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain. 5 Freelance archaeologist, Barcelona, Spain. 6 Archaeological Service of Barcelona, responsible of Pla Bàrcino, Direcció de Memòria, Història i Patrimoni – Institut de Cultura (ICUB), Barcelona, Spain.

Funerary rituals were an important part of the Roman cultural identity, as they represent, with a precise set of rules and practices, the passage from the world of livings to the deads.

In this sense, fire played a significant role, as a mean for cleansing the body and the soul of the deceased through cremation, as well as for cooking funerary banquets and offers.

As consequence of the carbonization process, it is possible to study the wood used for building the pyre and other goods placed in the stake (rogus), as for example funerary beds (lecta funebres), through wood charcoal analysis.

In this work, the wood used for cremations and funerary banquets in two suburban necropolis of the colony of Barcino (Barcelona) will be discussed and compared. The first, in use during the 1st century CE, was unearthed under St. Antoni Market, in relation with a main road (Via Augusta) that entered the roman city from the west. It counted with several funerary enclosures where 2 busta and 9 ustrina were identified. A second necropolis, functioning between the 2nd-3rd centuries CE along another road, was excavated in Vila de Madrid square, northwest from the city. In this case charcoal proceeding from cremations (less abundant, as the practice decresed after the 2nd century CE) or banquets, and two circular charred wooden structures have been studied.

Results of this investigation are significant because they constitute the first sistematic study of wood use in roman funerary contexts of Barcelona, up to now very limited to a few fragments. Furthermore, this work evaluates wood selection practices based on symbolic, functional or convenience criteria, the presence of wooden objects/furnitures in the pyre and in general sheds light on the wood management for supplying these rituals.


Sorting the trees: new evidences of woodland management at La Draga (Banyoles, Spain)

Oriol López-Bultó1, Patrick Gassmann2, Ingrid Bertin1, Raquel Piqué1

1Department of Prehistory, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain. 2 Independent researcher, Spain.

It is suggested that woodland management (e.g. pollarding, pruning or coppicing) was practised at least from the Neolithic onwards. The goal of this presentation is to discuss woodland management practices in the Early Neolithic waterlogged site of La Draga (5300-4700 cal BC - Banyoles, Spain). So far different methods and techniques (dendrochronology, roundwood age and diameter, dendrology…) have been applied to approach this issue and some preliminary results obtained.

But recent excavations brought forth new wooden archaeological materials which help approach this issue from another point of view: the presence of scars on the wood surface. For the first time, at la Draga, it has been possible to identify scars on the wood surface of piles caused after tool-marks and covered partially or totally by woundwood ribs, indicating that the trees were marked before being cut down. The piles marked have been identified as laurel (Laurus nobilis), this taxon is well documented at the site (firewood, instruments and piles), although playing a secondary role after oak. However, laurel is a tree rarely exploited during the Neolithic in Europe, which poses the question of the intentional selection of this wood at La Draga.

This paper will present the results of the morphological, technological and dendrological study of the laurel piles in the context of the wooden remains of La Draga site. The results of the different approaches are summarized and contrasted to provide new lights on Neolithic woodland management in Europe. Moreover, it is discussed the role of the laurel tree in the context of the Neolithic.


From the exhaustive study of a mountain village to the restitution of forest: how far can dendrochronology go?

Lisa Shindo1

1ROOTS Cluster of Excellence, Institute of Pre- and Early Prehistoric Archaeology, Christian-Albrechts-University, Kiel, Germany.

Since 2014, as part of several research projects on the links between humans and forests in the past, 20 buildings in a village in the southern French Alps (Courbons, 900 m altitude) have been studied by dendrochronology. These are mainly village houses but also a church, a bell tower and a mill. We were interested in the wood used in the structural work, which is only present in the ceilings. These are mostly joisted, but two of them are more elaborated, with visible beams and joists. A total of 155 timbers were studied. The species used are very varied, oak, fir, larch, Scots pine, elm, ash and willow or poplar, as are the growth patterns and felling dates, which range from the 14th to the 19th century. Although the village is mentioned in texts as early as the 12th century, the main felling phases take place in the 15th and 18th centuries (the study of these timbers contributed to the construction of the first oak reference curve at altitude in the southern French Alps).

According to the texts, since at least the 15th century, local wood has been exported to the lowland cities and is at the heart of a very active local market. As we have observed a change in the wood used in the 16th c., we will address the issues of wood resources and forestry management in this region at the crossroads of several trade routes, linking the high mountains, the plains and the Mediterranean Sea.


Woody resources and their management during Iron Age in northwest Iberia

María Martín-Seijo1

1Departamento de Ciencias Históricas, Universidad de Cantabria, Edificio Interfacultativo, Santander, Spain.

Charcoal is the most common archaeobotanical remain recovered from archaeological contexts dated to Iron Age in northern Iberia. This presentation will summarise the results obtained from several case-studies dated to the Iron Age in the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula. Up to now, many charcoals have been analysed providing an excellent opportunity to test the possibilities of going beyond taxonomic identification. In our research we have systematically combined charcoal analysis in tandem with registering dendrological and taphonomic attributes. This has provided information to better characterise the kind of woody resources managed, the combustion process, the depositional and post-depositional processes affecting to archaeobotanical assemblages. But it has also been obtained information about wood uses, woodland management practices, and even about the relationship established between people and their environment.


Mechanical wood properties over the past 100 years

Andreas Rais1, Andriy Kovryga1, Jan-Willem G. van de Kuilen1, 2

1Materials Engineering, School of Engineering and Design, TU Munich, Munich, Germany. 2 Engineering Structures, Biobased Structures and Materials, TU Delft, Delft, the Netherlands.

Forest stands adapt their growth on changes of temperature, nitrogen deposition, CO2-concentration and growing season. Forest management strategies also influence tree growth, for instance by admixing deciduous trees in coniferous forests or reducing rotation age and stand density. Climate change by itself or indirectly through silvicultural adaptations may have influenced the wood (mechanical) properties.

The focus of this study is on Norway spruce (Picea abies), which is relevant for use in construction despite the climate and calamity-related decline in European forests. Our internal database contains data about strength, stiffness, density and knot parameters from more than 10.000 boards. Most of the data were collected in order to derive models and threshold values for structural engineering applications, and as such can be considered representative of the timber grown in Central Europe in the last two centuries. From each of these boards, a small, defect-free wood sample is available to determine the date of wood formation (dendrochronological approach) and essential growth ring characteristics.

The presentation highlights the methods, but also gives first insights into whether mechanical wood properties may have changed in the last century. Changes in wood quality due to climate and management concepts are important for the entire wood processing chain forest-sawmill-final product. As the log and wood quality determine the product performance, any changes have a direct impact on the production chain and the added value during each production step. Sawmills notice a change in timber quality due to changed yields in the various assortments that they produce affecting revenue.


History of woodland management: the Neolithic

Caroline Vermeeren1, Kirsti Hänninen, Welmoed A. Out2

1BIAX Consult, Research centre, Zaandam, the Netherlands. 2 Moesgaard Museum, Aarhus, Denmark.

From written and iconographic sources there is proof for wood management in the historical period, but when did this practice start? It is often assumed that this could have been as far back as the Neolithic. To investigate woodland management, a model was made using the combination of diameter and number of annual rings (figure 1). Management (pollarding and coppicing) results in a higher quantity and quality of wood, due to better access to light. The managed trees are supposed to produce fast growing branches (managed spurts) with thicker annual rings. This was tested on modern trees resulting in reference graphs per taxon. Case studies for the Neolithic from different parts of Europe are compared to these graphs of which some will be presented. A management signal could not be found. Different possibilities are discussed to explain this result.

figure 1: growth model of managed (hatched) and unmanaged wood/trees, combination of diameter and age.