Open Access

Sole Survivors: Using Tree-Trunk Wells from Archaeological Excavations to Inform Reconstructions of Medieval Deforestation, and Future Reforestation


This paper represents an attempt at a detailed analysis of woodland presence and dynamics during the Middle Ages (AD 500-1500), as a contribution to the current debate on large-scale reforestation in the Netherlands. Palynological data for this particular period are scarce and allow only global reconstructions. To widen our search for historical woodland proxies, we investigated the potential of archaeologically excavated tree-trunk wells. We carried out a nation-wide inventory of this type of well, in which the shaft is formed by hollowed-out tree trunks, typically large oak trees. Our suspicion that such trees indicate the local presence of (old) woodland in the past was confirmed by a marked positive correlation with spatial reconstructions based on other sources of information: archaeological (charcoal kilns) and non-archaeological (place names and historical references). The observed correlations suggest that mapping the distribution of precisely dated tree-trunk wells can indeed contribute to achieving fairly detailed reconstructions of medieval woodland cover.

Publication timeframe:
3 times per year
Journal Subjects:
Geosciences, other, Life Sciences, Ecology