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Dendrochronology of the English Neolithic

  • J. Hillam (a1), C. M. Groves (a1), D. M. Brown (a2), M. G. L. Baillie (a2), J. M. Coles (a3) and B. J. Coles (a3)...

In the period 1970–85, tree-ring research in Europe had resulted in the production of long oak chronologies for both Ireland and Germany going back over 7000 years (e.g. Brown et al. 1986; Leuschner & Delorme 1984). In England, there was a network of regional chronologies covering the historic period, and almost no chronological coverage for the prehistoric. For the archaeologist this meant that, provided a site from the historic period produced a replicated site chronology, the chances of dating by dendrochronology were very high. The chances of this happening for a prehistoric site were poor by comparison, although some sites were successfully dated, for example the Iron Age causeway from Fiskerton in Liricolnshire and the Hasholme log boat found in North Humberside (Hillam 1987).

The period 1985–88 saw an intense effort to outline a prehistoric oak tree-ring chronology in England (Baillie & Brown 1988). This work centred on sub-fossil oaks from East Anglia and Lancashire and built on a previous chronology from Swan Carr, near Durham which spanned 1155–381 BC (Baillie et al. 1983). The approach to chronology-building was to produce wellreplicated chronology units which could be located precisely in time against the existing Irish (Pilcher et al. 1984) and North German (Leuschner & Delorme 1984) chronologies.

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The mid 1980s saw the calibration of radiocarbon by reference to the dendrochronology of European oaks. The dating by direct tree-ring measurements of wood from waterlogged archaeological sites has proved more difficult. Now there is a dendrochronology for the English Neolithic, that allows the dating of the Sweet Track in the Somerset Levels – already known to be the oldest trackway in Europe – to the year of its building

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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