Dendrochronology as a Standard Method in Anthropology
Dendrochronology did not become a standard research method until the 1980s, when the first extensive chronologies were published, but it has remained interdisciplinary. Using both natural live wood and seasoned crafted wood to form chronologies proved helpful to both climateology and archaeology.
Dendrochronology dated the cedar foundation beams in the Doucet Hennessy House in New Brunswick to 1808. (See above video) Tree-ring analysis gives archaeologists information about building materials, local forest resources, and the kinds of tools and techniques craftsmen used hundreds, even thousands of years ago.
Tree-Ring Analysis for Archaeology
Oak dating is crucial to European archaeologists, because medieval builders mainly used oak, and within the first year or two after cutting down the tree. Dendrochronological analysis of large internal architectural features or buried archaeology in northern Europe offers an accurate dating strategy since Baillie published a full oak timeline for Ireland back as far as 5000 BC.
In Medieval Archaeology (2003) Christopher Gerrard labels dendrochronology an archaeological science. Despite the innovations of other scientific processes, he says, “no single dating technique has had the same impact on later medieval archaeology as dendrochronology. Large regional samples of timbered buildings have been systematically analysed and the technique continues to have important implications for the dating of artefacts and sites.”
Gerrard describes how dendrochronologies have altered interpretations of distinctive pottery found in relation to wood samples. This shifted the record of how people interacted and traded to centuries earlier than previously thought. Since pottery itself is used as a means of dating archaeology, and of tracing demographics of production, distribution and usage, this one example impacts significantly on anthropological knowledge.
Dendrochronologies are 95% accurate, and were used to calibrate the radio carbon dating timelines that are another essential tool for archaeologists.
Dating Oak Castle Gates
Analysis of thin samples is not so reliable. An electric-powered microbore was developed for use on examples such as the great doors at Hay Castle, Wales, where timbers are less than two inches thick. Similar latticed castle gates at Chepstow were dated 1159-1189, while an older Anglo-Saxon door at Westminster Abbey was dated 1050 by the same dendrochronologist. The oldest door at Hay proved undatable from the samples taken during a survey by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, so the possibility remains that it is the oldest hanging, hinged door in Wales.