Glastonbury Abbey Symposium 9 June 2011 Abbey Shield

Charcoal, summarised from specialist report by Dana Challinor, MA (Oxon), MSc

Freelance Wood & Charcoal Specialist

Radford's excavations pre-dated the establishment of environmental archaeology and the guidelines for sampling which are followed today. Consequently, the charcoal from Glastonbury is hand-collected and does not provide what is now considered to be a representative sample of the preserved material. However, several charcoal samples were kept from fills of features (e.g. post-holes, fire pits) although the majority were soil layers either as make-up for floors or accumulated over time (e.g. between cobbled surfaces). Of particular interest are the layers associated with furnaces and kiln structures, which provide a moderately secure provenance for the charcoal.

Oak was the most commonly identified taxon, whether utilised for fuelwood or other activities, in the late Saxon and early medieval periods. This use of oak was supplemented by a range of other taxa, which is mostly represented by small branchwood and includes hedgerow or woodland margin types (hawthorn, blackthorn), but also by a fairly strong component of damp ground species (alder and willow/poplar).

Beech was found uniquely in one sample from a layer predating the make-up layer for a mortar floor within the west cloister trench. It is interesting, but not conclusive, that this is the only sample as the use of beech for fuelwood appears to be a trend of the early medieval and onwards. Whether this represents a change in woodland and/or a change in preference, owing to woodland modification, is unclear. There is a suggestion that the late Saxon fuelwood selection centred on oak, with a change in focus to beech in the later, early medieval centuries. This is fairly speculative at Glastonbury, but is a trend noted at other sites in southern England.