This special issue of the journal Archéologie, société et environnement (vol. 3, no 1) is dedicated to the publication of the proceedings of the international meeting entitled "Journées Bois. Échanges interdisciplinaires sur le bois et les sociétés" held on October 18 and 19, 2021 at the INHA in Paris. The aim of these days was to bring together all approaches to the study of wood, with no geographical barriers, no chronological limits, whatever the discipline.
This editorial note introduces the publication of the proceedings of the international meeting entitled "Journées bois: Interdisciplinary Meeting on Wood and Societies" organized on October 18th and 19th, 2021 at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art in Paris. Over these two days, thirty-three oral communications and nine posters were presented by researchers and students in the natural sciences and humanities, as well as architects, engineers and craftspeople, on four different themes : i) methods and techniques for studying wood in archaeological contexts, ii) wood resources, climate and societies – reconstructing environments and interactions, iii) wood craftsmen, and iv) wood in societies – analysing woodworking techniques. The aim of these days was to bring together all the possible different approaches to studying and working with wood, without any geographical barriers or chronological limits, no matter the discipline involved. These proceedings comprise twenty-two papers based on oral contributions and posters presented at the Journées Bois.
Neolithic settlement structures and protohistoric burials on well-drained and deeply decarbonated silts have revealed blackish horizontal laminated traces that we have called dark clayey laminations. Micromorphology and botany allow us to relate them to wood in specific anthropic installations and contexts (ovens, pits, tombs, ditches, etc.). Archaeo-pedological and botanical studies had made it possible to specify the diversified nature of these installations, their function and their mode of conservation. A new study of some of the thin sections by a botanist and micromorphologist brings some insights that are more precise.
During the Upper Palaeolithic, the boom in the work of bone materials reflects a diversity of techniques for its implementation. Splitting is part of this technological diversity, in the same way as grooves and splitting, these two techniques consisting in extracting elongated supports. Because it often went unnoticed, the evidence of splitting during the Magdalenian period is rare. Our study allowed us to examine its presence among the technical practices dedicated to the bone industry for this period, by questioning its methods of application and its links with the vegetal sphere. Wood is sometimes exceptionally preserved for the Magdalenian and almost absent at the Taillis des Coteaux (Vienne). The use of splitting allows us to indirectly approach the idea of a technical interaction of hard materials from the vegetal and animal worlds. We propose in this article a new look at this technical choice, by studying it in a systemic way around the different materials involved, using a technical and structural analysis of the tools, coupled with the results of the very first experimental tests that we drove. This part of the work made it possible to recognize splitting actions in the Early Magdalenian levels of the Taillis des Coteaux (17,500–16,900 BP) and to describe stigmata left on the debitage waste and the potential tools used.
Along the coast of Northern Alaska, wood remains from Birnirk and Thule archaeological sites are extremely well-preserved and have the potential to document climatic variations and cultural transformations in the early 2nd millennium CE in northwest Alaska. In this treeless coastal tundra, the primary wood resource is driftwood that come from the boreal forest carried by major interior rivers and ocean currents. While in northern Alaska, some Birnirk and Thule archaeological wood samples can be dated using the rare existing millennial tree ring master chronologies, many come from geographical areas where tree-ring master chronologies are too short (250-300 years). Here, we explore the potential of high-resolution wiggle-matching to accurately date tree-ring series that cannot be dated by conventional dendrochronology and develop preliminary tree-ring chronologies. We present the wiggle-matching results based on 75 radiocarbon dates for eight archaeological timbers from the Piġniq, Rising Whale and Pingusugruk coastal sites in northern Alaska. Wiggle-matching makes it possible to reduce the calendrical interval of these timbers’ last growth ring from centennial to decadal range and position 22 timbers in calendar time. These results open new insights into tree-ring dating of others Birnirk and Thule architectural treering samples and analyzing climatic variations of the early 2nd millennium CE, in different regions of Alaska.
During the Late Neolithic, the construction of a monumental palisaded enclosure marked the landscape of the Seine valley in the vicinity of La Villeneuve-au-Châtelot (Aube). With remarkable preservation, more than 500 oak planks have been preserved in large part due to an important capping layer of alluvial sediments. This assemblage offers an exceptional data set detailing the environment in which this development was built in 3232 BCE. Detailed paleoenvironmental studies provided data showing that the alluvial environment was dominated by a stable palustrine wetland for over three millennia, from the Early Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Dendrochronological studies show that the wood used to construct the palisade was growing in primary forest, raising the question of the origin of the trees and the distance over which they were transported. In particular, the data suggest that firstly, the timber were floated to the site using the Seine river: there are numerous notches on the base of the logs, which may suggest the method of transport and/or a method of placing the timber in the narrow ditches. Well-preserved tool marks showing how the wood was processed. These environmental and dendrochronological studies shed an unprecedented light on the history of the forest and provide a deep understanding of the relationship between humans and the environment, including detailed chronological and typological questions.
The archaeological wood from the Roman period discovered in Egypt is mostly in a good state of preservation due to the arid environment. Its analysis, whether xylological or dendrochronological, makes it possible to address several issues: the origin of the species, the cutting methods and uses of the wood, but also the environment. Indeed, trees are natural archives which, through the reading of their growth rings, provide precious data on their environment (type of forest stand, transformation of their environment, climatic trends, etc.). In Egypt, most of the local tree species along the Nile and in the main oases are strongly conditioned by the climate and flooding episodes. These trees are perfect candidates for reconstructing the climatic variations in this part of the Empire, but they have few rings, which are not always readable and are therefore difficult to distinguish. On the other hand, the study of imported woods, particularly numerous in the funerary field, notably certain conifers (cedar, pine, juniper, etc.), offers greater dendrochronological possibilities. The joint analysis of these local and imported woods makes it possible to compare species and growth patterns from several geographical origins with sometimes contrasting climates. This article presents the first results obtained from several wooden collections from Roman Egypt, notably from mummy labels. This ongoing research is part of a multidisciplinary SNSF project, led by Sabine R. Huebner, at the Universities of Basel and Geneva, which deals with the interaction between climatic changes, environmental stress and societal transformations in the Roman Empire during the 3rd century AD.
Between Saint-Père-sur-Loire and Sully-sur-Loire (45), the Loire riverbed has lately revealed three linear infrastructures. The older one, although incomplete, is made of at least three rows of oak stakes, dated from the 13th c. The construction of the two other structures took place 400 years later, at the very beginning of the 17th c. They consist in two parallel rows of stakes with an inner coffering made of planks on edge. These two structures cross the river from one bank to the other before meeting under the left bank, thus forming a huge triangle. After the historical sources, they are interpreted as dykes, built to constrain the Loire River and protect the gardens and castle arranged here by the duke of Sully. The use of the medieval infrastructure remains uncertain, potentially a fishery or boat-mill’s dam. These two sets of constructions belong to very different periods: one known as favourable, the 13th c. climate optimum, while the second meet a dire climate worsening, called the Little Ice Age. Their archaeological, dendrological and historical studies deliver new elements dealing with the river management or wood exploitation and craft in the medieval and modern times.
Dendrochronology enables to determine the construction period of an architectural element by dating the felling of the trees used. Samples of wood that still contain waney edge are dated to the year, allowing to precisely define the felling phases necessary for the buildings construction. Through six examples studied in Belgium at IRPA’s dendrochronology laboratory, this article explains how dendrochronological information can also be used to improve our understanding of the wood supply, the first step in the chaîne opératoire, intimately linked to the construction process. Careful dendrochronological sampling, combined with archaeological observations, allows: i) to date and establish accurately the construction evolution of large architectural ensembles, ii) to understand a building site before and after a significant event such as a fire or a destruction, iii) to reconstruct the successive interior fittings and circulation spaces, etc., but also iv) to indirectly apprehend the work carried out upstream and during construction. The use of precise dates provides valuable information on the sources of wood supply and their management (local or imported origin, programmed or opportunistic felling, species exploited, number of successive cuts, felling schedule, etc.). Dendrochronological studies also allow to enlighten the relation between wood quality and the structural adaptations of the trusses as well as the diversity of forest resources on the Belgian territory being found in our roof structures.
Since the 19th century, two crafts have changed form and/or actors in Moyenne-Provence: charcoal burning and distillation of juniper. The reciprocal and intimate knowledge of the places where these craftsmen operate,or the plant speciesthey manipulate and thecontained fire they use for transformation unites them in the status of men of woods. This status is as well claimed by them than recognised to them. Their common space of action is the Provençal “hilly land”. Each craftsman is led to take advantage of the potentialities of this multiform space, considered repulsive, in order to live there, to work there and to perpetuate his activity by a permanent maintenance of the sites and the forest cover. The fire of the oven, a term common to both crafts, is secret because it is not visible. Our reflection on this know-how and lifestyle is based on surveys, experimentations, ethnographic interviews and investigations in archives. The acquisitions of this research go beyond the Provençal terrain and the contemporary times. Their comparative and diachronic perspectives enable us to discover technical and anthropological constants and to position the crafts and the concerned spaces at the heart of the construction of collective memories funding rural identities.
Multiple dimensions of time are omnipresent in wood and in crafts. Crafts are intertwined with historical time, time of learning and experience, with rhythm and marks of the craftsperson’s action, with time and meaning of work, with time perceived and the perception of the material. Biological and geophysical time is inscribed in the wood of the tree. Physical time governs the mechanical behaviour of wood material. A transdisciplinary project called Time4WoodCraft – for “it is time” to rethink our relationship to time and to the living – aims at creating a dialogue between four viewpoints in the human and social sciences, physics and material sciences, life and environment sciences, and craftspersons. To address this wide topic, we organised the research in three interrelated, realistic levels. A broad exploration is based on sharing knowledge from different scientific and woodworking fields, and on collecting information from written sources. Case studies connecting craftsmanship and laboratory analyses are examined in three main directions: perception and measure of temporal markers of wood; changes through time in the selected wood for specific uses; different meanings of wood ageing. Interviews target the importance of time in craft work. The data gathered will be used for mapping connections between physical, biological, and cultural dimensions of time in woodcrafts and in crafts’ woods.
Finding the right timber to make a piece is a constant concern for shipwrights. These craftsmen who build and restore wooden boats have to consider various parameters when making their choice. They pay particular attention to the grain of the timber. To be resistant, the parts must be cut from “grain wood”, i.e. wood whose fiber orientation corresponds to the shape of the desired part. The hull of a ship is mostly made up of curved shapes. Shipwrights therefore turn to trees with curves, which they call “naturally bent timber” (“bois tors” in French) or “marine timber”. The difficulty of obtaining these particular shapes of wood, as well as the need to take into account the specific defects and constraints of each log, forced shipwrights to make compromises and concessions in order to choose a timber from which they could make their piece. Based on several years of ethnography in professional yards and training centers, this paper describes how shipwrights read and judge wood. The case of techniques to circumvent the difficulty of finding “curved timber” by creating curved shapes from straight wood will also be studied. All of this will allow to shed light on the demanding aspect of the shipwright’s activity, which is the search for timber.
In 2017, during a research mission in South Korea, I met a young contemporary artist. She insisted on introducing me to her Master, a woodworker who was about to be given the title of Living National Treasure. However, the Master was not willing to consider her as his disciple, because she would only visit him when in need of help for her artistic projects, whereas a disciple would be expected to engage fully in the learning process, in order to patiently acquire, day after day, the necessary experience to feel, to understand and to work with wood, a living and unpredictable material. The title of Living National Treasure is the highest distinction within a highly formalized ranking system implemented in the 1960s in order to safeguard endangered crafts. This paper studies the connections between such prestigious titles, specific representations of craftsmen, skills, and forms of transmission, and cultural notions regarding wood.
Since the 19th century, the hives are standardizing, and beekeepers gradually freed from the constraints of manufacturing have lost their knowledge and autonomy in choosing hives. Today, some beekeepers who still have manufacturing and woodworking skills design their hives and work the wood themselves. They are thus voluntarily supporting sustainable beekeeping that is resilient to environmental change. Their original technical choices testify to their desire to rebuild a man-nature relationship by making their own hives. The results of our survey explore the different factors that explain their autonomy: geographical proximity to the resource, localized social network of knowledge and mastery of a know-how signal a true culture of wood. These results also show how these beekeepers think and rebuild links with the living marked by attention and care.
The process of Neolithization reached central Europe in the 6th millennium BCE. During this time, first considerable human impact on natural vegetation occurred and the development of sedentary lifestyles in permanent settlements, agriculture and livestock breeding imposed novel requirements on local woodlands. At the same time, the intensive use of wood led to significant innovations and advances in woodworking techniques. Here, we present an overview of the latest results of our investigation of Early Neolithic woodworking in Europe. Several water wells with preserved wooden linings from the Linear Pottery Culture (LBK; ca. 5500-4800 BCE) have been excavated within the last two decades and allow detailed insight into the advanced carpentry skills. Following a multidisciplinary approach, dendroarchaeological and experimental studies are combined to provide a comprehensive overview of woodworking methods, tools, and thoughts on resource exploitation. Additionally, a possible chaîne opératoire is discussed. The almost exclusive use of oak (Quercus sp.) for rectangular well linings points towards deliberate species selection, implying expert knowledge of mechanical properties of wood, also demonstrated by elaborate splitting techniques. The use of specialized tools for specific tasks indicates a high level of specialization in woodworking. Different joint types illustrate the technical variety and sophisticated nature of Early Neolithic carpentry.
The inland delta of Niger river is the guardian of nautical traditions since several thousands of years. However, the only archaelogical trace of boat in Africa, the 8 000-year-old Dufuna dugout is located in the northest of Nigeria. Consequently, the knowledge about dugouts of the delta is documented solely from sources writed between 1591 et 1967, and by analysis of figurations. Nine models of dugouts, carved, sewed then nailed, have been inventoried between Bamako and Timbuctu by this way. Comparatively, the present wooden barge, sandcarrier, of Bamako asks a question about cultural crossbreeding with old skill and knowledge. Our study analyses the encounter occurred around 1884 between two traditions, aboriginal and then exogenous. This investigation puts back together cultural and technical ways folowing by the wooden barge, sand carrier, of Bamako. The research on the shipyard notes the industriel process developed by the carpenter Bozo during his work. This man of the art is a rigthful heir to a thousand years of know-how. To day he perpetuates his expertise with succesful. The study counts twenty-four forest trees and textile plants used to make boats. It appears that the inland delta of Niger river and have mad contribution to nautical innovations until to day.
The preventive archeology dig, carried out in 2017 as part of the Aosta bypass (Isère), uncovered an extremely well-preserved wooden aqueduct. The samples taken in thirteen plates, with a view to dendrochronological dating, date the felling of oaks (Quercus fc) during the autumn or winter to 19 and 18 BC, chronology corroborated by stratigraphic and ceramological data. The structure crosses the excavation area over a length of 32.40 m. Built in sections of 7.09 to 7.60 m in length, it uses massive planks whose elevation is only guaranteed by the narrowness of the installation trench and by a few crosspieces. These latter also support the cover boards. No fixing element, nor any assembly and sealing system is involved. The book has no background. It was probably fed by groundwater at this location. The good conservation of the work as well as its rather early dating, at the origins of the ancient agglomeration of the vicus Augustus, make it a relatively exceptional discovery.
Recent excavations in the vicus of Arlon and the Gallo-Roman villa of Mageroy (Luxembourg Province, South-East Belgium) formerly part of the Civitas Treverorum, have shown a number of wooden artifacts from various wells and a pond. The identification of the material has shown, apart from the finished objects, a significant quantity of processing waste related to the woodturning technique. The study of the toolmarks on those waste leads to the identification of the tools used and gives a better understanding of the roman lathe-turning technique. Apart from the sites of Arlon and Mageroy, others finds of roman wood in the area can be re-examined in light of recent studies. The sites of Titelberg and Château Renaud have also shown traces of woodturning, both waste and finished objects. A regional synthesis of woodworking can be proposed, seemingly indicating a non-specialized craft on a local scale. Wood turning is quite common and frequent, and could be seen as an itinerant craft across the region. On the contrary the site “Neu” in Arlon shows signs of a workshop, among an artisanal district identified in the vicus. Apart from woodturning, products of other woodworking techniques are identified in the area and suggest importation of finished products rather than a local production.
The preventive archaeological excavation of a Roman rural settlement carried on the “Les Jardins” site at La Croix-Saint-Ouen (Hauts-de-France, Oise) led to discovery in context of a kit mainly of tools. Within this unique assemblage, 24 pieces (adze, plane, chisels, bits…) illustrate different trades and activities related to woodworking at the end of the 3rd / beginning of the 4th century. Their presentation gives the opportunity to put different themes into perspective: vocabulary used by the archaeologist; linkage to different stages of woodworking and to a trade; immuability of tool shapes and associated gestures; comparisons and suggestions of the meaning of the assembly.
Excavations carried out as part of the redevelopment of the Sepmanville Square in Évreux (Eure), led to the discovery of a conical wicker creel intended for eel fishing (length 106 cm, diameter of the entrance neck 26 cm). Made of raw willow (probably Salix alba), it is dated to the end of the 13th century or the 14th century. It very likely was deposited at the bottom of the river, at the confluence of two branches of the Iton, and later it was slightly displaced during a flood. This discovery is a useful addition to the French inventory of conical creels used mainly for eel fishing throughout the Holocene. In the context of a river and at the foot of the city walls, this wicker relic also allows us to address the question of eel fishing for urban consumption in the Middle Ages and in modern times. The presence of this creel supports the archaeo-ichthyological data that have already shown the strong development of fishing during the medieval and modern periods in the cities of the Seine Basin, whose waters had high levels of pollution.
The proposed paper, resulting from a PhD thesis work on the use of local wood in construction, questions the recent evolution of wood construction practices regarding both the historical evolution of techniques, but also the current challenges of sustainable development. Tools have played a fundamental role in the history of the use of wood in construction. With the appearance of the first tools and their evolution, the methods of harvesting, transformation, assembly will be gradually perfected over the centuries. The industrial era made it possible to automate certain tasks, including harvesting and sawing, shifting knowledge from primary processing to industrial processes. Since the end of the 20th century, this logic has led to a paradigm shift, with the effect of a certain optimization of production chains and more competitiveness, but also losses in terms of know-how and the abandonment of part of the resources. The evolution of timber management, harvesting and processing methods generates environmental impacts that depend on the choices made by each actor in the sector, including architects. The first results observed show that the choices of architects for construction systems, species, their levels of transformation, have a major impact on the feasibility of short circuit projects and on the entire economic, social and environmental fabric. This development appears to some to be inexorable. But while our world is wondering about its future, isn’t it rather time to revisit our objectives and our practices, and in particular to check whether it is the resource that must adapt to the tool or the reverse?
We introduce and describe four different kinds of carpenters (daiku), especially through the wood species they use. The temple and shrine carpenter (miya-daiku) has to search his wood far away, the carpenter for refined teahouses and residences (sukiya-daiku) uses local wood, the joiner of doors, windows and screens (tateguya) also uses Japanese wood species for interior finishings, and the general carpenter’s choice of wood (daiku) is shown through three examples.
Unlike many archaeological studies that focus on hunting weapons heads, this article is concerned with the shaft, the long handle of prehistoric hunting weapons. This being a wooden element, it is rarely found on archaeological sites. In order to counter the taphonomic bias, this study considers ethnographic shafts (19th- 20th century), belonging to the Yaghan and Kaweskar of southern Patagonia, peoples who continued their lifestyle as maritime hunters until the beginning of the 20th century. This study is based on the comparison of the chaîne opératoire with the aim of demonstrating how the study of woodworking can, along with lithic and bone technology, provide information on the craftsmen who made them. While these two groups from southern Patagonia have a theoretically very similar material culture, their shafts were made in very different ways. Indeed, the two groups differ in their choice of wood type, which has a direct influence on the first steps of the process: the felling and cutting up of the tree. In addition, each group seems to use its own techniques during processing. These results lead us to reflect on the cultural differences and economic strategies that may exist between the two groups.
The Morinda lucida Benth. is an African wood, distributed over two thirds of the continent. This species is not threatened by genetic erosion but it is listed as essential for indigenous societies because it accompanies humans in their daily lives and in their funeral rites. All parts of the wood are used: trunk, bark, branches and roots. Depending on the climatic characteristics, its appearance varies from a twisted shrub to a medium tree with a regular bole of more than twenty meters in height and sixty centimeters in diameter. Morinda lucida has many qualities that make it a good timber species: fine grain, good resistance to pressure, insects, and mould. Pirogues, pits, furniture, or statuary therefore can be made with this species. But its main uses are dyeing and medicine. The variability of know-how, the diversity of vernacular names and its proverbs are indications of a species with strong symbolic and identity connotations.