Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Dendrodates of Three Medieval Latrines of Tartu/Tartu Kolme Keskaegse Jaatmekasti Dendrodateeringud

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

Dendrodates of Three Medieval Latrines of Tartu/Tartu Kolme Keskaegse Jaatmekasti Dendrodateeringud

Article excerpt


According to December 2007 data on at least 35 latrines dating to 13th-16th centuries have been found in Tartu (Tvauri & Utt 2007, 143). In addition it has been possible to document several medieval latrines in cultural layer during archaeological supervisions, but at the moment they have not been researched more specifically.

Latrines are one of the most interesting and rich in finds objects in Tartu from the Middle Ages, which posses an enormous scientific value. Although single medieval and newer wood and stone latrines have been researched in other places in Estonia, they have nowhere been found in such large quantity as in Tartu (Bernotas 2007, 54). Latrines of Tartu and material discovered from them have survived remarkably well. The reason is, that in the medieval position of the town on Emajogi flood plain the soil is wet all year round because of ground water coming from Quaternary deposits. Moisture is in turn a perfect preservative for organics, especially in lower levels of the cultural layer (Metsallik 1985, 47 ff.).

In Estonia the dendrochronological dating of wood structures has been researched by Tartu University lecturer Alar Laanelaid (Laanelaid & Eckstein 2003; Laanelaid 2004; 2005; 2006; Laanelaid et al. 2005), who has also dated the wooden floats below St. John's Church walls (Laanelaid 2002). The objective of the current article is to publish dendrodates of three different Tartu latrines and compare their suitability with archaeological findings. It is the first research in northern Europe where medieval latrines have been examined with exact science method.

For dating, the latrines from which the author could take wood proofs himself in 2007 were used. Besides three latrines dated here, more have been discovered on the plots of 14 and 15 Ulikooli Street, but they have not survived well enough they were made of either too thin or trimmed logs or it was not possible to dig them out to a full extent.

Dated latrines

15 Ulikooli Street courtyard, latrine 1b

The plot in 15 Ulikooli Street was situated right in the centre of Tartu surrounded by town wall, on the east side of Mary Church, which was the largest sanctuary in Tartu (Fig. 1). Latrine lb is one of six latrines examined in courtyard of 15 Ulikooli Street in 2005 and 2007. The content of only two of those latrines (Nos lb and 6) was completely excavated. Other latrines had been destroyed before the archaeological research (latrine No 3) or they were below the appointed digging depth and only their upper part could be examined (Tvauri 2007).


The side length of the quadratic corner jointed log box (Fig. 2) measured from inside was 1.8 m. The box has been at least 15 log-levels high (1.9 m). Logs had been connected with dog-neck type connection, whereas the hollow of the corner tenon was hewed on the upper side of a log. As on some parts the bark is visible, it can be concluded that they were pine logs. The logs were 10 cm in diameter on an average. The box was surrounded by medieval cultural layer composed of loafs, branches, leather and other organic waste. Below the box the layer of decomposed peat emerged, into which the lowest log layer had sunk. Box lb had been built inside a former and larger latrine (1 a) (Tvauri 2007, 12).

Inside the box, 1-2 log layers from above, there was a thin wood line, which seemed to originate from north-south directed boards. Below that line the box was filled in with thick and soggy, green-brown or dark-red organic layer, which contained branches, chips, cherry stones, parts of wooden tableware, ceramics and other findings. In addition there were many large bricks in the latrine (size 30.5-31.5 x 14.5-15.5 x 8-10 cm) and their parts. Bricks were in most cases with grout traces. There was a pile of land stones on the bottom of the box (Tvauri 2007, 12).


The substance in the latrine was mainly dated from the period starting from the mid-14th century until the end of the 14th century (Tvauri & Utt 2007, 144 f. …

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