An Early Medieval Symbol Carved on a Tree Trunk: Pathfinder or Territorial Marker?

By Dreslerova, Dagmar; Mikulas, Radek | Antiquity, December 2010 | Go to article overview

An Early Medieval Symbol Carved on a Tree Trunk: Pathfinder or Territorial Marker?


Dreslerova, Dagmar, Mikulas, Radek, Antiquity


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Introduction

In modern times carving on living trees is a common phenomenon, featuring hearts, names, initials or dates, an instinctive practice often attracting the disapproval of park-keepers, foresters and ecologists. But trees have been culturally modified in many ways for centuries (e.g. Turner et al. 2009), and preserved traces of the art can be found in the forest zones of northern Europe and North America. Like the trees, these are several decades or centuries old at most, but examples of medieval or earlier marks are unknown. Therefore the adventitious discovery of an early medieval carving on a fossil oak tree (Qercus robur) as reported here is exceptional, if not unique. It was found in 2005 during the examination of fossil tree trunks being extracted from a sand and gravel pit on the banks of the Labe (Elbe) river, near Celakovice (central Bohemia, Czech Republic). The tree trunk was extracted together with dozens of other oak trunks, some as long as 10m, from the Holocene alluvial sediments of the river (Figure 1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Semi-fossil oaks, partially converted to coal, are commonly found in Holocene deposits associated with many European rivers (e.g. Ruzickova & Zeman 1994; Kalicki & Krapiec 1995; Spurk et al. 2002; Dreslerova et al. 2004). Although it is not possible to determine exactly where a tree originally stood, or how far the trunk may have been transported by the river, it appears probable that these trees fell down as a result of lateral erosion of the river bank no great distance from the place of their final deposition. Other waterlogged oak trees were extracted from the same sediment levels in the 1930s only a few hundred metres from the location of the current finds (Petrbok 1937).

Discovery and date

The carved symbol was found while sampling one of the fossil trees for wood-eating insects and fungi. It only became visible when a large irregularly-shaped piece of the outer wood was detached at random from the trunk. When the piece was turned over, a star-shaped symbol was seen on the underside in the form of raised ridges, as a reversal of the original incised image (Figure 2). The original carving had been cut into the tree trunk, now soft and waterlogged, but its image survived in relief, carried on the new growth which formed as the tree repaired its wound and filled in the original cuts. This new growth, or scar tissue, was denser and harder than the bark and sapwood and thus survived in a more robust form when the rest of the tree became waterlogged.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

An attempt to date the age of the tree by counting annual rings failed because of the poor preservation of the trunk, originally about 1 m in diameter. Present day exemplars of Qercus robur in central Bohemian lowlands 1m in diameter are in general approximately 200-250 years old, but the variability can be extensive (Cerny, et al. 1996). The radiocarbon age of the wood sample, taken from the new growth, is 1385 [+ or -] 92 BP (CRL 7046), calibrated to 529-871 AD using Intcal 5.0 (Figure 3). The new growth has been estimated to have formed over approximately 25 years after the symbol was cut, according to the number of annual tree rings preserved in it.

Form of carving

The carving takes the form of a star with five visible points. It had been situated on the trunk about 2m above the root mantle, which means that its height was c. 1.6-1.8m above ground level during the lifetime of the tree. Its relatively high position on the tree suggests that it was meant to be clearly visible by an adult at a distance.

In marking the tree, a roughly circular area of bark had been stripped from the standing oak at about head-height, and the exposed bare wood carved with an axe or chisel. The bare wood was later affected by wood-destroying fungi, which leaves characteristic hollows (preserved as upraised knobs). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

An Early Medieval Symbol Carved on a Tree Trunk: Pathfinder or Territorial Marker?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.