Charred wood is one of the most frequently recovered material
remains that is recovered from archaeological sites across the
world. Wood has been, and continues to be, used for a wide variety
of everyday activities such as utensil, furniture and structure
manufacture and as a major source of fuel. It can therefore provide
information on activities undertaken at the site, the palaeovegetation
and palaeoclimate of an area and it can be used to examine land
management practices such as coppicing.
Each wood taxon has a unique set of anatomical characteristics
that are used to help identify ancient woods from archaeological
sites. Once charred wood becomes extremely durable and in general
specimens retain their internal and external structures very well.
Anatomical features used for identification can be viewed on three
fracture planes. Identifications are made using a binocular reflected
light microscope at 50-500x magnification and through comparison
with modern reference material held at the Institute of Archaeology
and material published in identification manuals.
Charcoal from excavations carried out by Archaeology South-East
is recovered as spot finds on site or through processing bulk
environmental samples. This charcoal is sub-sampled and analysed
to provide taxon identifications and information on the conditions
of deposition. The data is then interpreted using comparisons
with modern ecological requirements and growth tendencies to provide
an image of the past vegetation and the types of vegetation stand
that were exploited for wood resources. Spatial distributions
of taxa across features in the site can reveal evidence for different
activity centres and can lead to a better understanding of wood
resource selection and management.
The in-house charcoal specialist has expertise in analysing charcoal
from British and southern African archaeological sites and offers
this specialist service to commercial and academic archaeology
units from both regions. The aims of the analysis can be tailored
to the project, whether single identifications or full large assemblage
analysis and report writing/publication are required.