CE03 - Interactions Humains-Environnement

Medieval climAtic optimum and socio-economic development : study of Notre-Dame de Paris wood frame and forestry consequences – CASIMODO

Submission summary

The Notre-Dame de Paris (NDP) wooden oak frame is one of the greatest masterpieces of Gothic carpentry in France. It was constructed during the High Middle Ages (HMA) between the 11th and 13th centuries, at a time of profound environmental and societal changes – climate optimum, strong demographic and economic growth – which created significant pressure on available forest resources, one of the key economic drivers of medieval societies. The destruction of the NDP wood framework in the fire of 15 April 2019 left thousands of charred and fragmented oak wood pieces. Analyzing this "forest" means to almost go back in time, by rebuilding the forests of past centuries and restoring this heritage for the public.
The CASIMODO project aims to understand the impact of climatic and anthropogenic factors on the evolution of the HMA forest–wood socio-ecosystem: forest, raw wood material management, and manufactured end products in the Île-de-France and Paris Basin. The project proposes three lines of research to address society’s adaptive response to the availability of wood resources during the HMA. The first purpose is to define the climatic and the socio-economical context of Paris. In order to identify the potential technical adaptations of the medieval society, the second objective is to study the timber and destroyed framework from an archaeological point of view in order to characterize the construction supply methods of the building site. The third purpose consists of characterizing the forest stands exploited in the 11th–13th c., their management, and the possible silvicultural systems used for the production of adequate timber. The overall goal of CASIMODO is to provide crucial information and enable a fuller understanding of the evolution of an economic area under climatic, societal and demographic pressure, through the wood life cycle.
We propose to develop an integrated approach by combining history, archaeology and bioarchaeology. Trees record variations in environmental variables, with each annual growth ring containing a means of dating, and a set of anatomical and chemical markers indicators providing information of the woodland structure, the geographical origin of the wood, and past climate. This information will be compared with contemporaneous wood data from secular and religious medieval frames from Northern France, Southern Belgium and Western Germany. Complementary proxies, such as textual archives and paleoenvironmental/bioarchaeological data of medieval archaeological sites in the Île-de-France and Paris Basin will also be integrated.
By echoing the context of the current ecological threat, this project addresses recurring problems in human–nature relations and is in line with the theme of societies facing environmental change. Improved documentation of temporal and spatial variability in past global climates is needed to better anticipate the possible impacts of future climate change. CASIMODO can provide indirect clues on the extent of deforestation or even natural disasters and linked epidemics such as the plague. In addition, radiocarbone dating is a central tool of modern science (biology, ecology, geology, history, archaeology.); however, it is still hampered by the imprecision of dates obtained for certain periods. Progress in this direction will, therefore, be a major step forward for very large section of the scientific community

Project coordination

Alexa Dufraisse (Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


AASPE Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements
LSCE Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement
Université de Liège / Service d'Archéologie médiévale et de dendrochronologie
CReAAH Centre de Recherche en Archéologie, Archéosciences, Histoire
DST Direction scientifique et technique
University of Freiburg, Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources / Chair of Forest Growth and Dendroecology

Help of the ANR 663,098 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2021 - 48 Months

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