History of wood exploitation in the Southern French Alps: Modelling of man-environment relationships at local scales

wood exploitation
wood exploitation
Fig. 1 and 2: In the small village of Courbons (900 m a.s.l., near Digne-les-Bains city), the beams of the stables are very often made of oak, which was at least a hundred years old when they were felled. Nowadays, such big trees are no longer present in the forests of the region.

As part of the Subcluster ‘ROOTS of Socio-Environmental Hazards’ (link), several dendrochronological sampling campaigns have taken place in France since February 2020 under the direction of Dr. Lisa Shindo (contact: lshindo@roots.uni-kiel.de). The first campaign took place in the ancient theatre of Orange. More on this part of the project can be seen in a short video, in French, which was made for the website of Orange city (link). The following campaigns were conducted in mountain houses and churches at 600-900 m altitude in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (Fig. 1) and at 1100-1700 m altitude in the Hautes-Alpes (Fig. 2). In total, more than 15 mountain buildings dating from antiquity to modern times were studied. Dendrochronological analyses are still in progress, however, we can already deliver first results: in the wood-frames of the Hautes-Alpes buildings (at higher altitudes), only larch (Larix decidua Mill.) could be detected, whereas in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (at lower altitudes), the species are more varied. In particular, there are beautiful oak (Quercus sp.) beams in the stables, i.e. in the oldest levels. Nowadays, however, in the local forests there are no more living oaks that can produce such beams. This means that oak may have been over-exploited at one time, leading to its rarefaction.

An abstract of the paper for the annual conference of the Association for Tree-ring Research can be found here (link). The presentation “Well-designed mountain houses feature the only dated Pinus Sylvestris timbers in the southern French Alps” can be viewed online (link). A detailed article on this study will be published in the coming months.

Furthermore, together with Walter Dörfler and Ingo Feeser from the Institute of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archaeology, Kiel University, we will conduct sedimentological, palynological and dendrochronological analyses this autumn in order to study annual sedimentary layers of lakes in northern Germany. The aim of this investigation is to identify events common to several lakes as well as characteristic years.

wood exploitationwoodFig. 3 and 4: In the hamlet of Dormillouse (1700 m a.s.l., near Briançon city), the large barns built in the upper levels of the houses are only made of larch. Large quantities of hay were stored there to feed the animals in winter.


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions