SESOD: South East Scotland Oak Dendrochronology Project

The South East Scotland Oak Dendrochronology (SESOD) project aims to build the first long oak reference chronology for SE Scotland which represents a large geographic gap in native oak tree-ring coverage. This is part of a larger issue, that native timbers are generally under-represented in the national Scottish record compared to more-readily identified imports and this limits the degree to which any further native timbers can be recognised and dendro-dated.

Fortunately, dendrochronological work on deadwood from the Old Oaks of Dalkeith Park (see photo) is available to provide the anchor in time, ie the recent end of the new oak reference chronology to be produced by SESOD, with Dalkeith data spanning AD1592-2010. However, only a few trees are older than 1700, and more data from 1700 and earlier is sought.

The project director, Coralie Mills is requesting the help of those who know of any buildings or structures in SE Scotland with old timber which may potentially meet the objectives of SESOD. Coralie can be contacted at

Dalkeith Oaks sampling

Sampling deadwood, Dalkeith Oaks. Copyright C Mills 2018

Assessment visits will be undertaken to the most likely candidates in 2018-19, the first year of the 3-year project. SESOD will concentrate on locating, sampling and analysing oak timbers from selected historic buildings and structures in the Scottish Borders, the Lothians and Edinburgh, in sites where the timber stands a good chance of pre-dating 1700 and being native rather than imported. This will be easiest to predict in medieval buildings built before the great surge in imported timber to the eastern central belt from around 1450. However, away from the coast and where transport was more difficult, we would expect native timber to continue to be used in the late- and post-medieval periods. This was found to be the case at a townhouse on the High Street in Jedburgh which contained native oak felled in AD1667 (see photo). It was only possible to date it by comparison with oak chronologies from the north of England, where local oak was used well into the post-medieval period. Creation of an oak reference chronology for South East Scotland aims to enhance the ‘date-ability’ of historic oak timbers in this region.

Jedburgh Townhouse AD1667

Jedburgh Townhouse oak floor dendro-dated to AD1667. Copyright C Mills 2018

SESOD will run over three years, from 2018/19, with archaeology grant support from HES, and partnership working with a range of bodies, including Archaeology Scotland and the Forestry Commission Scotland on outreach and educational aspects. It also has the valuable support of the council archaeologists in the region.

This article first appeared in the Archaeology Scotland magazine, Issue 32, Summer 2018.

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