(Netherlands Centre for Dendrochronology)


By using the example of Dorestad, this paper focuses on how new techniques in dendrochronology can aid the reconstruction of Early Medieval urban centers.


The archaeology of urban centers is often characterized by the abundance and complexity of finds. These rich datasets are invaluable for our understanding of the past, but often prove difficult to interpret. Innovative research strongly adds to our understanding of these datasets. However developing these new methods and research techniques also necessitates the discussion on adequately preserving excavated material for future research. For without qualitative data much of this innovative research is impossible. By exploring the case study of Dorestad this papers aims to show the importance of preserving excavated material at one hand and broader comparative studies at the other.

The Early Medieval trade centre of Dorestad was the largest settlement (emporia) of Northwestern Europe. A flourishing trade centre connecting the North and the Baltic Sea areas with the Rhineland, but also the Christian south with the non-Christian north. Dorestad is situated in the centre of the Netherlands near the rivers Rhine and Lek. The site itself has been the subject of continuous research for over thirty years. Resulting in a wide variety of used excavation techniques and an abundant collection of finds, including numerous wooden samples. For example in the harbour alone 150.000 man-sized poles were excavated, sadly none preserved.

Research on the preserved wood can help us to understand complex sites as Dorestad better, specifically in those periods where written sources are (almost) absent. Nowadays dendrochronological research not only provides archaeologists with accurate dates, but can also improve the insights into the historical climate, landscape development, socio-economic relations and settlement dynamics. This research is mostly confined to the quality and quantity of the excavated material. The current challenge for archaeologists is to: (1) use these newly developed techniques for broader comparative studies and (2) to adequately preserve excavated material to anticipate future research developments.


Early Medieval urban centers, Dendrochronology, Socio-economic relations, Landscape reconstruction