Historical charcoal-burning mounds in the Engure area, Latvia, and their significance for the history of forest exploitation
The application of airborne laser scanning (LiDAR) has led to the discovery of numerous man-made mounds encircled by pits in the forests near Engure, north-western Latvia. Field survey revealed these to be historical features remaining from charcoal-burning in mound kilns. Archaeological excavation was undertaken at one of the features, along with analysis of recovered wood charcoal, dendrochronological and radiocarbon (14C) dating and archival research into documents relating to historical charcoal production in the area. All of the analysed charcoal samples are from Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.), the dominant tree species in this area.
It is concluded that the large-scale charcoal production served the needs of the ironworks operating at Engure in the 17th–18th century. The study of the charcoal-burning mounds has permitted estimation of the source area and volume of the wood supplied for charcoal production, and the period during which it was undertaken. Wood harvesting on such a scale had a significant impact on the surrounding forests and also had some effect on subsequent forest growth in the area. These findings demonstrate that features of this kind deserve to be regarded as archaeological remains of considerable research potential.
Keywords: Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, forest history, Scots pine, charcoal-burning mounds, charcoal kilns, wood charcoal