Meeting of UK Dendrochronologists, Cambridge, Dec 2017

The UK has a small number of dendrochronologists, and the majority of them are in this photo, taken at the recent meeting held at Cambridge University Geography Department with their recently appointed dendro group, Dr Ulf Buentgen (seated in photo) and his team, as hosts. This answers the question of whether we could all fit round one table. We are a rare resource! Those present include dendro-climatologists, dendro-ecologists and dendro-archaeologists. There was a full house for the Scottish contingent of Dr Anne Crone (AOC Archaeology), Dr Rob Wilson (St Andrews Uni) and me (Dr Coralie Mills of Dendrochronicle & St Andrews Uni). The attendees gave short presentations of our work, with time for wider discussion, and the meeting enriched our understanding of what the UK Dendro community as a whole think of as the pressing issues for our very specialist field, with long-term archiving and training of new dendrochronologists being among them. We all agreed that the meeting was valuable and pencilled in a plan to meet in Scotland, perhaps in two years’ time. A short article summarising the meeting has been published in Dendrochronologia, written by Ulf and all the participants. Please e-mail me if you would like a copy – see Contacts page for email address.

Copyright Ulf Buentgen 2017

UK Dendrochronologists’ meeting Cambridge Dec 2017: From L to R:  Neil Loader, Rob Wilson, Coralie Mills, Annemarie Eckes, Martin Bridge,
Ulf Büntgen, Rachael Turton, Tom Melvin, Paul J Krusic, Fredrik C
Ljungqvist, Mary Gagen, Alison Arnold, Alma Piermattei, Robert Howard,
Tim Osborn, David Brown, Roderick Bale, Giles Young, Mike Baillie,
Andrew Martin, Ross Cook, Anne Crone, Iain Robertson, Cathy Tyers, Nigel
Nayling, and Dan Miles. Photo: Copyright Ulf Buentgen 2017




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SCOT2K Native pine buildings dendrochronology article published

Castle Menzies lang garret native pine roof dated 1572. Copyright C Mills 2017.

Delighted to receive this early Christmas present, the publication in Vernacular Architecture of our paper on the SCOT2K dendro-dating of native pine historic buildings in Scotland. Using a combination of ring-width and blue intensity measurements, we have dated 20 pine structures from the 15th to the 19th centuries, and from grand castles to modest cruck cottages. While most are in the Highlands, near the native pinewoods, there is also evidence for long distance transport from the medieval period. The discussion considers not only the dendro-dates for the built heritage record but also the implications for historic woodland management, timber use and trade. The full reference and link to the article is given on the Projects and Publications page.

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SCOT2K Pine Dendro – lecture video from ARP Conference

The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland have posted videos of the lectures given earlier this year of the 2017 Archaeological Research in Progress Conference in Edinburgh. This includes my lecture about the historical aspects of the NERC-funded SCOT2K Pine Dendro Project, undertaken at the University of St Andrews. You can find the recording here

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SCOT2K pine dendro talk at Highland Archaeology Conference, 14th Oct 2017

Delighted to be speaking at the 2017 Highland Archaeology Festival Conference in Inverness this October about the SCOT2K project which, of course, concentrated on the dendro-dating of historic native pine buildings in the Scottish Highlands. The presentation is part of a panel session on archaeological dating. There’s a great programme for the conference, and for the festival as a whole. More information is available at at

Highland pine cruck: Copyright C Mills

Highland pine cruck: Copyright C Mills 2017

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SCOT2K pine dendro talk at ARP conference, 27 May 2017

Badden cruck cottage

Badden Cottage cruck: Copyright C Mills 2017

Looking forward to presenting the results of the SCOT2K pine dendro project at the Archaeological Research in Progress Conference 2017, more details of which can be found here. My talk will focus on the heritage outcomes of the project including the dating of 20 or so pine buildings, mostly in the Scottish Highlands, which has been facilitated by (1) the development in the project of long native pine reference chronologies, from living trees and from sub-fossil material in lochs, and (2) the application of a new dating method, the use of ‘blue intensity’ measurements, a proxy for latewood density which is used alongside the more traditional ring width measurements.

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The Wallace Oak, Port Glasgow


Wallace oak

The sampled part of the Wallace Oak, Port Glasgow

The last week has been an eventful one for the Wallace Oak in Port Glasgow.  The Society of William Wallace have had the remains of the famous tree moved to a safe place where it can gradually dry out before hopefully being put on display locally. This includes both sections of the trunk, one of which has a chain embedded in the tree’s growth.

My analysis of a sample from the oak, together with examination of its form in old photos, has led to the conclusion that the oak could have been old enough to have reached a good size by the time William Wallace was captured in 1305. Local tradition has it that Wallace was chained to this tree when being taken from Scotland to London, where he was found guilty of treason and brutally murdered.

While the section of the tree I could age was much younger, originating in the 18th century, it is evident that this was regrowth from above the ancient hollow base which sprouted after the tree was bored and had boiling pitch poured in under the instruction of the 13th Earl of Glencairn in 1763. This had the effect of rejuvenating the tree. Clearly the tree was already a hollow veteran then, and could easily have been 500 or more years old by that time. The other important point is that the association with Wallace was already known and regarded as significant in the 18th century, and this tradition is not a Victorian invention.

The tree was well known to local people, many of whom had their wedding photos taken beside it when it was growing in the grounds of the Holy Family RC Church, which was built in the 1950s. More research on the history of the growing site would be worthwhile. This week, the story of the tree has been in the national and local press, and discussed on Radio Scotland. I am delighted to be working with the Society of William Wallace on this project.

Copyright C Mills 2017

Chain embedded in the Wallace Oak

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SCOT2K paper on historical pine dating with Blue Intensity published in JAS

Highland pine cruck: Copyright C Mills

Highland pine cruck: Copyright C Mills

Delighted to have the SCOT2K team’s work published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, just out now in 2017. The paper shows how the use of Blue Intensity, as a proxy for latewood density, has been deployed to assist the dating of historical Scots pine timbers, based on our work on historic buildings and archaeological sites in Scotland as part of the NERC funded SCOT2K project.  A link to the abstract online is given on the Projects and Publications page of this website.  The full PDF is available on request from me – at

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Encounters with historic oaks

Balfron oak

Balfron – The Clachan Oak

Interesting oaks feature large in some of my current projects. I am preparing a sample to age a fallen ‘Wallace Oak’ at Port Glasgow, and in reading around discover that there are several other Wallace Trees in Scotland with fascinating traditions attached. Old coppice and maiden oaks feature prominently in a community landscape survey project at Killearn Glen, being undertaken with the help of local people and Northlight Heritage. On my way back from site last weekend I stopped by the impressive Clachan Oak at Balfron (see photo). Besides helping to hold this hollow veteran together, the iron hoops had another function until the end of the 18th century. Petty criminals were chained to the tree with an iron collar around their necks connected by a length of chain to one of the iron hoops. This custom is noted in the wonderful ‘Heritage Trees of Scotland’ book (Rodger, Stokes & Ogilvie 2006) which records that this form of ritual humiliation was known as ‘the jougs’. More news anon on the Wallace oak and the Killearn project.

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Another year, another tree-ring

Dalkeith deadwood

Dalkeith fallen oak. Copyright Coralie Mills 2015.

A year since I last blogged, only because it has been an exceptionally busy time and still is! So the very briefest of updates, and with thanks to the many colleagues, collaborators and clients involved. Work continues on the Scottish Pine Project, in which I hold a part-time research fellowship at the University of St Andrews. Alongside that, other projects over the last year have included: development of a native oak chronology for south east Scotland, using deadwood from the old oaks at Dalkeith Park; historic woodland assessment survey at Falkland Park; and assistance with the creation of a ScARF directory of Archaeological Scientists for Scotland.  Also a busy year as chair of the Native Woodlands Discussion Group, which had its 40th anniversary bash in 2014. NWDG is a great friendly society for anyone interested in woodland history, ecology and management especially in northern Britain. This year sees the 20th anniversary of our Scottish Woodland History Conference too. More details on the NWDG website. Right better get on with some work!

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Native Scottish dendro, new links & TRACE

Rothie CM

Rothiemurchus – Loch an Eilean copyright C Mills

I’ve been at the TRACE dendro conference this week, in Aviemore, organised by my colleagues at the University of St Andrews. Fantastic conference, I learned a great deal from the other speakers and poster presenters, as TRACE covers all branches (!) of dendrochronology, from archaeology to isotopes, from ecology to climate, and much more …. and all inter-twined of course. Anyway, this has spurred me to update the Dendrochronicle projects page, with the abstract of the historical keynote I was invited to give, on the Dendro evidence for the changes in Scotland’s built heritage and cultural landscapes over the last 1000 years, and with the Mills & Crone Scottish Forestry article on a closely related theme. If you would like to check out the TRACE presentations there is a programme with all of the abstracts available for download on the St Andrews Uni link here.

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