Wooden history

People in Roots
Dendrochronologist Lisa Shindo examines a wooden beam

Lisa, you began your work last December in the framework of the Cluster of Excellence ROOTS. Can you tell us something about your planned research here?

Within the subcluster “ROOTS of Socio-Environmental Hazards”, my research aims to identify the nature, intensity and temporal variations of the ancient uses of wood and their impacts on forest resources in the Southern French Alps, as well as to investigate their relationships with climate variation and the restitution of environmental hazards. For this purpose, I use and develop methods of dendrochronology applied to living trees and past timber over the last two millennia. Moreover, at Kiel University I will set up a dendroarchaeological research laboratory and develop research projects in collaboration with the other members of ROOTS. For example, we will cross-reference different supports carrying environmental and climatic information in the long-term in order to identify environmental hazards.

More specifically, what are your main lines of research?

I am a dendrochronologist, specialized in woods used by humans, and I study tree-ring thickness (the concentric circles you see when you cut a tree) in order to date the time point of the death of the trees and to reconstruct the environment in which the trees lived. Dendrochronology is a discipline at the crossroads of human and social sciences (history, archaeology, ethnology), biological and environmental sciences (ecology) and fundamental sciences (mathematics and statistics): it therefore has a multidisciplinary perspective by nature. Thus, an interdisciplinary dialogue is fundamental to describe the history of wood exploitation, reconstruct exchanges between different environments, and identify climatic, ecologic and human hazards within tree-ring series. My research strategy is based on both altitudinal (up to 2100 m above sea level) and climatic gradients (Mediterranean to mountain climate) in order to better understand the evolution of wood use and our heritage in terms of forest landscapes.

Career life before ROOTS: what were the main stations and milestones of your career path so far?

I studied Art history, Archaeology and Archaeometry in France (at universities in Paris, Bordeaux and Dijon) and during my two master’s degrees, I carried out internships in many European dendrochronological laboratories. In 2016, I completed my PhD in archaeology and ecology at Aix-Marseille University with a dissertation on “Timber and forest management in the Southern French Alps: dendrochrono-ecology and archaeology”. After my PhD, during a short stay at the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research (University of Arizona), I was interested in wood provenance issues and data conservation (databases). Then, during a contract with the French CNRS, I worked on very old dead trees, whose carbon content was analysed at annual resolution with regard to climatological questions. In parallel, during free-lance activities, I conducted dendrochronological analyses for several archaeological sites and buildings. This allowed me to acquire new data that nourishes my reflections within the framework of various research programs (at CNRS and other university affiliations) with which I am still associated.

In my current ROOTS position, I appreciate the freedom we have been given to build diverse collaborations, and to have the time to analyse, combine and reflect on my data.

Life beyond ROOTS: what do you like to do beyond your research?

I have enjoyed the opportunity to discover Kiel and its region, its historical buildings and museums, concerts and festivals, as well as to experience boat trips, gastronomic specialties (I particularly liked “bratwurst” during the cold months!) and to go strolling. I am also learning German in order to better understand the new culture. Lastly, I like to meet my friends and family to share my discoveries in Germany with them.

About the person

Lisa Shindo is a research associate in the ROOTS subcluster “ROOTS of Socio-environmental Hazards”.

You can contact her at: lshindo@roots.uni-kiel.de