Regional patterns of Late Medieval and Early Modern European building activity revealed by felling dates

Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist*, Andrea Seim, Willy Tegel, Paul J. Krusic, Claudia Baittinger, Christelle Belingard, Mauro Bernabei, Niels Bonde, Paul Borghaerts, Yann Couturier, Anne Crone, Sjoerd van Daalen, Aoife Daly, Petra Doeve, Marta Domínguez-Delmás, Jean-Louis Edouard, Thomas Frank, Christian Ginzler, Michael Grabner, Friederike M. GschwindKristof Haneca, Anton Hansson, Franz Herzig, Karl-Uwe Heussner, Jutta Hofmann, David Houbrechts, Ryszard J. Kaczka, Tomáš Kolář, Raymond Kontic, Tomáš Kyncl, Vincent Labbas, Per Lagerås, Yannick Le Digol, Melaine Le Roy, Hanns Hubert Leuschner, Hans Linderson, Francis Ludlow, Axel Marais, Coralie M. Mills, Mechthild Neyses-Eiden, Kurt Nicolussi, Christophe Perrault, Klaus Pfeifer, Michal Rybníček, Andreas Rzepecki, Martin Schmidhalter, Mathias Seifert, Lisa Shindo, Barbara Spyt, Josué Susperregi, Helene Løvstrand Svarva, Terje Thun, Felix Walder, Tomasz Ważny, Elise Werthe, Thorsten Westphal, Rob Wilson, Ulf Büntgen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Although variations in building activity are a useful indicator of societal well-being and demographic development, historical datasets for larger regions and longer periods are still rare. Here, we present 54,045 annually precise dendrochronological felling dates from historical construction timber from across most of Europe between 1250 and 1699 CE to infer variations in building activity. We use geostatistical techniques to compare spatiotemporal dynamics in past European building activity against independent demographic, economic, social and climatic data. We show that the felling dates capture major geographical patterns of demographic trends, especially in regions with dense data coverage. A particularly strong negative association is found between grain prices and the number of felling dates. In addition, a significant positive association is found between the number of felling dates and mining activity. These strong associations, with well-known macro-economic indicators from pre-industrial Europe, corroborate the use of felling dates as an independent source for exploring large-scale fluctuations of societal well-being and demographic development. Three prominent examples are the building boom in the Hanseatic League region of northeastern Germany during the 13th century, the onset of the Late Medieval Crisis in much of Europe c. 1300, and the cessation of building activity in large parts of central Europe during armed conflicts such as the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648 CE). Despite new insights gained from our European-wide felling date inventory, further studies are needed to investigate changes in construction activity of high versus low status buildings, and of urban versus rural buildings, and to compare those results with a variety of historical documentary sources and natural proxy archives.
Original languageEnglish
Article number825751
Number of pages20
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2022


  • Ecology and Evolution
  • Archeology
  • Cultural heritage
  • Dendrochronology
  • Dendroarchaeology
  • Felling dates
  • History
  • Historical demography


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