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Subject: Dendrochronology


From: Mark Norman <mark.norman>
Date: Monday, September 23, 2002
Kristina Enhorning <kristina.enhorning [at] landsarkivet-lund__ra__se>

>Has anyone heard of dating of books with wooden boards by means of
>dendrochronological analyses?

In the early 1980s the Ashmolean x-rayed the boards (oak and beech)
of a copy of the Domesday Book as part of the Oxford Dendro Lab
programme and these clearly show the tree ring structure along with
details of the fixings, etc.beneath the leather covering.

More recently however, dendrochronology was also used to date a
Stradivarius violin known as 'Le Messie'. This has been in the
Ashmolean's collections since the 1930s but its date had been
doubted by some sceptics, but particularly following stories in two
American newspapers. These were based upon the fact that, on the
basis of a photograph, Dr. Peter Klein in Hamburg had tentatively
suggested that the tree from which part of the violin had been made
had been felled shortly after 1736. As Stradivarius died in 1737 the
inevitable furore broke as, although some had suggested it was an
outright 19 century fake, no-one had considered that it might be an
18 century instrument, by another maker, but in the unmistakable
Strad shape. To resolve this issue, the Ashmolean invited John
Topham, a dendrochronologist with a special interest in violins, to
examine the instrument and record the growth lines on the front of
the violin. By comparing these with a Master Chronology he
identified a youngest growth ring of 1682. Allowing for the removal
of sap-wood and for a ten year seasoning period, this brings the
instrument within reach of a date which is by no means inconsistent
with one by Stradivarius in this particular large and classic shape.
In addition, Topham found a near perfect match between the pattern
of the tree rings on the Ashmolean's fiddle and two undisputed
instruments by Stradivarius both dated 1717--incidentally, the
Ashmolean's 'Messie' has a label inside it dated 1716. In brief, the
dendrochronology provides strong evidence that it is indeed an
authentic instrument by Stradivarius and fuller account is published
in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Vol 27, No 3 March 2000 pp
183-192.A summary article by Dr Jon Whiteley can be found in 'The
Ashmolean', No 39, Winter 2000 -01.

Mark Norman
Head of Conservation
Ashmolean Museum
Oxford, UK

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:23
               Distributed: Wednesday, September 25, 2002
                       Message Id: cdl-16-23-001
Received on Monday, 23 September, 2002

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