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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Norwegian Wood? Dendro-dating in Anstruther

aka The Dreel Halls

St Nicholas Tower, Wester Anstruther: Photo Copyright C Mills 2014

Dendrochronolgical analysis of single oak timber, a second floor joist, from St Nicholas Church Tower in Anstruther, was recently undertaken on behalf of the Anstruther Improvements Association. The analysis was successful in providing both a date and a provenance for the timber: the date-span of the sample was AD 1397-1507 and a southern Scandinavian source was indicated for the timber, most probably from Southern Norway. The final ring was at the bark edge and had both spring and summer wood present, so the tree was felled somewhere between late summer of AD 1507 and before the spring of AD 1508, and was probably squared at source.

There was a thriving Norwegian timber export trade, especially to the Scottish east coast ports, in the late medieval period. The transportation time need not be long, with the Norwegian coast only a few days sail away, and with the old Anstruther harbour immediately adjacent to the church, as can be seen in the photo.  There is no evidence of timber re-use and the result indicates a construction date in or not long after AD1508.

St Nicholas Tower is part of a complex of historic buildings, standing on an even earlier church site, being conserved and put to excellent community use thanks to the hard work of the Anstruther Improvements Assciation. More information about the AIA’s activities and events can be found here


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RSFS awards trophy for Scottish dendro paper

Anne, Coralie & RSFS Trophy

Dr Coralie Mills (L) and Dr Anne Crone (R) with the recently awarded Sir George Campbell Trophy

The Royal Scottish Forestry Society recently awarded the Sir George Campbell Memorial Trophy for the following paper published in their journal: ‘Mills, C M & Crone, A 2012 ‘Dendrochronological evidence for Scotland’s native timber resources over the last 1000 years‘, Scottish Forestry 66, 18-33.

Anne (of AOC Archaeology) and I are both absolutely delighted to receive this award, as you can see in the photo, especially given that the paper is a synthesis of our work done over a very long period in Scottish dendrochronology. We are good at allocating date-spans, but this is work done over a longer time than we care to mention publicly!  We are very grateful to RSFS for this trophy which they award annually to what they consider to be the best paper published in their journal that year.

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Mingary Castle

This remarkable castle in west Ardnamurchan is one of my current projects, working alongside Tom Addyman and his team at Addyman Archaeology. Local resident and archaeology enthusiast Jon Haylett is blogging about the castle and the wider archaeology and conservation project there. He has written about my recent dendro assessment visit – link below. A very exciting project to be involved in.

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Lochwood’s ancient oaks

IMG_2444 (2)Why has it taken me so long to visit this astonishing old oak wood at Lochwood, near Beattock, Dumfries & Galloway. The old oaks are relicts of a medieval deer park or wider hunting forest beside Lochwood Tower, the historic seat of the Johnstones of Annandale. Lochwood is one of the sites which provided key data for Prof Mike Baillie’s construction of the first oak chronology for Scotland, back in the 1970s. The site is now being revisited by a group of woodland historians with a view to uncovering its age and origins. Hopefully further dendrochronology – especially of deadwood samples – will prove possible; it could tell us so much alongside the archaeological and documentary evidence.


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