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Analiza taksonomiczna pozostałości drewna z cmentarzyska w Świbiu / Taxonomic analysis of wood remains from the cemetery at Świbie

DOI: 10.33547/Swibie2022.2.11

Analiza taksonomiczna pozostałości drewna z cmentarzyska w Świbiu / Taxonomic analysis of wood remains from the cemetery at Świbie

by Agata Sady-Bugajska 1

1 – Dział Archeologii Muzeum Śląskie w Katowicach, ul. T. Dobrowolskiego 1, 40-205 Katowice

In: Michnik, M., Dzięgielewski, K. (2022). Cmentarzysko z wczesnej epoki żelaza w Świbiu na Górnym Śląsku. Tom 2, pp. 192-215. Gliwice: Muzeum w Gliwicach, Wydawnictwo Profil-Archeo.


In addition to typical artefacts, the archaeological research at Świbie also produced a significant amount of plant materials. Due to the nature of the site as a biritual cemetery, these were mainly fragments of wood preserved either in dried and mineralised form or in charred form, i.e. as charcoal.

The analysis covered plant remains originating from 102 graves, with 65 samples coming from inhumation graves and 20 from cremation graves (of which 17 were from cremations in pits, including animal burials, and three from urned cremations). In addition, 17 samples came from biritual burials (of which 16 were combinations of an inhumation grave and a cremation in pit, whereas one – an inhumation with urned cremation). Moreover, 21 samples from non-sepulchral contexts were analysed, originating mostly from hearths located close to graves. Charcoal fragments were preserved in 100 graves. They were remains of cremation pyres and hearths. Fragments of unburnt wood, recovered from 15 graves (mostly inhumations), were remains of pads found under bronze objects.

The species prevailing in the material was Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris), with oak (Quercus sp.) also frequent. Both were used for building cremation pyres. Birch (Betula sp.) came third in terms of frequency of remains. Apart from these, charred remains of fir (Abies alba), alder (Alnus sp.), and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) were identified in the graves. Spruce/larch (Picea abies/Larix sp.), beech (Fagus sylvatica) and elm (Ulmus sp.) occurred occasionally.

In addition to Scots pine, spruce/larch, ash, birch, and oak, traces of burnt wood of probably maple (cf. Acer sp.) and poplar (cf. Populus sp.) were identified in the material coming from outside the graves (from the hearths).

The taxonomic composition obtained on the basis of wood remains from the Świbie cemetery is similar to the results of anthracological and xylological studies of other necropolises.
Fragments described as the remains of “wooden pads” are very interesting finds. These are small fragments of wood preserved in a highly mineralised or dried (?) form, often with a greenish-blue coating. Their analysis was very difficult, but positive results in the form of a taxonomic identification could nevertheless be obtained for 11 samples. Virtually all of the pads were made of oak wood. In the sample from grave 79, several fragments of birch (Betula sp.) bark were preserved alongside fragments of pads. In a few cases, wooden pads preserved traces of other organic materials. These were mostly fragments of fabric, but remains possibly interpretable as straw remains were also recorded. The “pads” themselves were most likely modest remnants of wooden biers, preserved thanks to the preservation properties of metal corrosion compounds.

Wood remains, mostly charcoal, are among the most common plant materials found at archaeological sites. Their analysis reveals which species of trees and shrubs were used by people, and it also provides information on surrounding forest communities.