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The origin, assortments and transport of Baltic timber

The origin, assortments and transport of Baltic timber

By Tomasz Wazny

Constructing Wooden Images, eds. Carl Van de Velde, Hans Beeckman, Joris Van Acker and Frans Verhaeghe (Brussels University Press, 2005)

Introduction: Intensive building and particularly shipbuilding activity in medieval Europe caused deforestation and timber shortage in many areas. Wrobel et al. report that, for example, in Lubeck in the late Middle Ages no primary forest vegetation was left close to the city. Similar problems occurred in England and the Netherlands. Rackman wrote that according to Domesday Book, woodland covered only about 15% of England in 1086. At that time England, was less forested than France in the 20th century. Consequently, the first regulations concerning forest protection were introduced which created a need for large-scale wood importation.

The first cases of long distance timber transportation in northern Europe, observed using dendrochronology, are from Dorestad in the Netherlands and Wolin in Poland. Both settlements from the 9th century were located close to the mouth of large river systems. Some of the timber used at these sites was transported from distant inland areas, probably by floating the logs downstream.

The connection of inland and sea trade and traffic in northern Europe by the Hanseatic League increased the range and intensity of trade connections. Also important were the later medieval advances in shipbuilding. The cargo capacity of the Hanseatic cog is estimated to be 90-100 t, and the 15th-century hold could carry approximately 300t of cargo at the west-route,whereas the hold of the caravel of the late 16th century could be loaded with over 1000 t. The advances in navigation and the organisation of sea transport enabled transport of goods at a massive scale. Increasing load capacity of ships was based on their deeper submersion that caused necessity to reload cargo in bigger harbors.

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