By Peter Groenendijk
In May and October 2015, members of the wood science work-package roamed the Basque Country in search of some of Spain´s oldest oak trees. Sampling took place in the provinces of Álava and Gipúzkoa, and focused on the four main species of deciduous oaks: Quercus robur, Q. petraea, Q. pyrenaica, and Q. faginea. We focused on the Basque country for two reasons. Firstly, because we know from historical archives that many ships were built in the Basque country, and often using locally sourced timber. Secondly, as the oak species that grow in this region (the ones we targeted) are the ones that were often used in naval construction.
The goal was to start building the reference data that will be needed for dendroprovenancing shipwreck timbers. We sampled wood to be analysed with all the provenancing techniques: dendrochronology, quantitative wood anatomy, DNA analysis, organic chemistry, and strontium isotopes.
Additionally, we targeted some historical buildings (their columns, beams and rafters), to get wood from trees that were cut down a long time ago. We can then use this wood to extend the chronologies we build from the living trees.
The long history of use and management of the Basque forests is reflected in the trees present in them. Sometimes the forests (or the trees) that were believed to be rather old were actually quite young. We also learned that having a large stature is no measure of old age, and especially in Gipúzkoa trees can attain large diameters (> 100 cm) in relatively few years (ca. 150 years). In several sites we found trees of around 500 years old, which is very respectable indeed!! Even more so if we consider that many of these trees were pollarded, that is, they had their branches cut off for wood production every 20 to 25 years. I´m not sure I would endure having my upper body removed so many times in a row…
All of these trees tell a story, about how and where they lived. We are now reading and starting to put together this story, and hope that part of it will coincide with the story told by the shipwreck timbers. In other words, we are working on the puzzle…
Below a gallery of pictures, ordered more or less chronologically and per site.
I hope the pictures speak more than the words…
Álava – Jugatxi
Álava – Oteo
Álava – San Vicente de Arana
Álava – Gordoa