, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 137-144

Dendrochronology in suboptimal conditions: tree rings from medieval oak from Flanders (Belgium) as dating tools and archives of past forest management

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Abstract

Throughout the Middle Ages forests in Flanders (northern Belgium) experienced a dramatic human influence. Forests were logged for wood supply and converted to arable land. The structure of the remaining forests was altered. This, combined with the tempering influence of the Atlantic climate, results in conditions that are suboptimal for dendrochronological research. Tree-ring series of Quercus robur and Q. petraea of timber from medieval archaeological sites are often short, show abrupt growth-rate variations and are complacent. The question arises whether tree-ring series of this type are potential records of past management and whether they could constitute the basis of a reference chronology for archaeological dating. During six archaeological excavations in and around the medieval town of Ypres, cross-sections were collected. The tree-ring series could be dated back to the 12th–14th centuries, using reference chronologies from surrounding regions. The growth pattern of the short sequences displays a high similarity to tree-ring series from modern coppice. For the first time, it has been confirmed that dendrochronological analysis in Flanders is possible and can provide valuable information on medieval forest use and structure.