Wood from late antique-medieval Ephesos: Forest management, trade, and production traditions

The late antique-medieval city quarter to the south of the Church of Mary in Ephesos is the source of large quantities of charred wood due to a fire destruction. Their study is the key to questions from fields as diverse as forestry, the building industry, craftsmanship, and trade.

Even very small charcoal fragments – regardless of their carbonization process – permit an identification of the used shrub or tree species or genus based on specific characteristics of the wood anatomy. Wood charcoal can survive over millennia in the soil under unfavorable conditions due to their resistance against microbial or chemical decomposition. As a result, they are an extremely valuable source of environmental and economic archaeological data.

Late antique Ephesos

The city quarter to the south of the Church of Mary has been excavated since 2011 and opens a window to the late period of Ephesos with numerous overlapping constructions from the 5th century CE to far into the Middle Ages. One of the many special features is the variety of uses of the buildings in immediate vicinity of each other: craftsmen quarters and simple living quarters are located directly adjacent to a wealthy residence. Especially the extensive fire damage from the 7th century left behind large quantities of charred wood.

Burnt layers as treasure troves

In a first step the research project on the use of wood is dedicated to the identification of these woods. The living environment in late antique and medieval Ephesos will be further completed through the ongoing synthesis of this data with the archaeological interpretation, the evaluation of socio-economic conditions based on small finds and on written sources and finally also the data of the vegetation history from pollen analyses.

Wood as a universal material

The omnipresence of wood as a resource is common to all periods and cultures – provided its corresponding availability: as firewood in the home as well as for technical areas, as architectural element, as carving and turning wood for the production of furnishings, tools, weapons, or jewelry.

Initial results

Currently the data of 6,500 charred wood fragments is available. The construction woods were identified in this almost unmanageable find ensembles using in situ beams and boards, charred wood pieces corroded onto construction nails as well as widespread occurrence: oak, pine, and fir, or cedar woods dominate this aspect. The discovery of an exceptionally well-preserved furniture ensemble with carved walnut and yew wood has marked the high point of the investigations so far.