Tree species used for low-intensity production of charcoal and wood-tar in the 18th-century Białowieża Primeval Forest, Poland
Samojlik, Tomasz; Jędrzejewska, Bogumiła; Michniewicz, Maria; Krasnodębski, Dariusz; Dulinicz, Marek; Olczak, Hanna; Karczewski, Andrzej; Rotherham, Ian D.
Despite being one of the best preserved temperate forest of the European lowlands, the Białowieża Primeval Forest (eastern Poland) has a long history of human use. We described the areal extent, and habitat features related to 18th-century charcoal and wood-tar production in this forest. Based on anthracological analysis of charcoal samples collected in production sites we determined the tree taxa used in production and discussed the possible impact of this exploitation on tree stands. Eight charcoal and nine wood-tar production sites were found in the area which covered over 300 km2. The density of charcoal hearths was estimated at 2-4 sites per 100 km2, and that of wood-tar kilns at 2-6 sites per 100 km2. Contemporary habitat features in the 500-m zones around production sites were compared with those around thirteen random points. As expected, charcoal hearths were located significantly closer to streams and more frequently in wet and deciduous forests, whereas wood-tar kilns were closer to water than random points. Archaeological excavation was carried out on the remains of one charcoal hearth (dated to the second half of the 18th century), and revealed its construction features with a layer of stones on the bottom and a wooden truss. The tree species used in production were related to tree stand composition reconstructed from published palynological studies. In total, ten taxa were discovered in samples from charcoal hearths and two in samples from wood-tar kilns. Hornbeam Carpinus betulus (52.3% of samples), birch Betula sp. (17.5%) and small-leaved lime Tilia cordata (14.0%) were most often used in charcoal production, while Scots pine Pinus sylvestris (98.7% of samples) was almost exclusively the species used for manufacturing woodtar. Comparison with published palynological data suggested selective exploitation of hornbeam for charcoal production. In conclusion, charcoal and tar burning was not of great importance in BPF in the past (due to low site density and short period of activity), therefore the direct influence of these activities on the forest development was very limited.