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History, Duties, Challenges, Perspectives

In 1967 the Laboratory of Dendrochronology was founded at the Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Cologne. Ernst Hollstein setup the basics of the lab from 1968-1970. After a vacancy Burghart Schmidt directed the laboratory for 36 years from 1972-2008. Then Thomas Frank followed him and the lab was renamed to “Laboratory of Dendroarchaeology”.

The Dendrolab Cologne is a unique facility in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, an area of 34.000 km² with 18 million people and a rich archaeological heritage. The main tasks in the lab are the development of master chronologies and the dating of wood for archaeology. Source critical aspects in building a master-chronology for the region “Lower Rhine Basin”, the dendro-dating of a Neolithic well and the cooperation with other archaeological sciences are examples of daily work.

Since four decades tens of thousands samples were analysed and collected in the Dendrolab Cologne. About 53.000 data files stored in a proprietary DOS-format contain tree-ring-distance measurements. Despite of corrupted files about 50.000 tree-ring-sequences were stored to an SQL-database and simultaneously converted to the Heidelberg-Format for processing with TSAPWin. The radii come from 22.000 samples with a total of 4 million tree-rings. The revision of this data is a time-consuming challenge which can be realised only stepwise within the framework of research projects (cp. Project Revision of dendrochronological data ...).

The major challenge and future perspective of the Dendrolab Cologne is the preservation and archiving of the samples which are labelled and dumped in a stable. They fill a volume of about 250 m³, mostly wood from Western Europe reaching back to the 6th millennium BC. Unfortunately there are no listings and no systematic storage. An association of archaeology, university and perhaps private sponsors is needed to manage this rare treasure of dendrochronological samples to make it accessible to research.


Creasman, Pearce Paul, Basic Principles and methods of dendrochronological Specimen curation. Tree-Ring Research 67, 2, 2011, 103-115.

Frank, Thomas, 40 Jahre Dendrochronologie in NRW [40 years of dendrochronology in North Rhine-Westphalia]. Archäologie im Rheinland 2011 (2012), in press.

Frank, Thomas, Höfs, Elisabeth, Neyses-Eiden, Mechthild, Auenhölzer aus Troisdorf als missing link zwischen Spätantike und Frühmittelalter [Floodplain wood from Troisdorf as missing link between Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages]. Archäologie im Rheinland 2010 (2011), 135-137.

Frank, Thomas, Gechter, Michael, Höfs, Elisabeth, Neyses-Eiden, Mechthild, Der begrabene Wald – Neue Baumstammfunde aus Troisdorf [The buried forest – new findings of trunks from Troisdorf]. Troisdorfer Jahreshefte XL, 2010, 122-130. [PDF]