Roman and early-medieval long-distance transport routes in north-western Europe: Modelling frequent-travel zones using a dendroarchaeological approach

Publication date: September 2016
Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 73
Author(s): Rowin J. van Lanen, Esther Jansma, Jan van Doesburg, Bert J. Groenewoudt
To what extent long-distance transport in north-western Europe changed after the Roman period is generally unknown. Few historical sources are available and existing archaeological records are unclear and sometimes conflicting. Traditionally, research on the long-distance exchange of goods mostly has focussed on the spatial analyses of luxery goods such as jewellery, weapons and religious artefacts. Relatively little attention has been paid to the spatial modelling of common exchange networks and transport routes.In this study we used a dendroarchaeological approach to model long-distance transport of oak (a common good) to the Roman and early-medieval Netherlands. By combining established and newly-derived provenances of imported timbers with data on Roman and early-medieval route networks, we were able to reconstruct: (a) Roman and early-medieval exchange networks of imported timbers, (b) changing transport routes and (c) spatially shifting frequent-travel zones. The findings were compared with distribution patterns of other commodities for daily use: pottery and stone household goods.Results show that in the early and middle-Roman periods (12 BCE – CE 270) timbers were imported from the German Rhineland, the Ardennes and the Scheldt region. We have no evidence for wood import to the current Netherlands during the late-Roman period and first phase of the Early Middle Ages (CE 270–525). In the following centuries, between CE 525–900, oak again was brought to the current Netherlands, this time exclusively originating from the German Rhineland. This pattern significantly changed during the last phase of the Early Middle Ages (CE 900–1050) when timbers were derived from the Ardennes only. We used these patterns to calculate changes in long-distance transport routes and frequent-travel zones in the research area. Through our analyses existing data on Roman and early-medieval route networks could be expanded and improved. The calculated wood-transport patterns agree well with the distribution of imported pottery and (other) household goods in these periods.