The Museum of the Wood Age

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by Max Adams, Archaeologist, Author and Woodsman

We were very pleased to welcome Max Adams to the Civic Society for a tour of his virtual Museum of the Wood Age.

As well as the beauty of trees, we were reminded of their unique properties that make them such a valuable resource – longevity, durability and utility and the many species, each with its own characteristics, which provide strong and resilient wood used for different purposes.

Max suggested the Wood Age is the earliest and longest ‘Age’ known to man. He pointed out the intelligence and skill needed by the first human beings that enabled them to provide shelter and warmth and make wooden utensils to aid the tasks of daily living. Wood enabled the construction of devices such as the lever, the windlass and the wedge, designs which have been in use ever since.

From the time of those earliest dwellings made by man wood has been the material of choice for both domestic homes and public buildings. The round house, traditionally the central point of many communities, was a design that continued to be used over many centuries. Wood was used in the construction of transport both on water and land, from early canoes, the Vikings’ longboats, to our own early sailing vessels and ships. The ingenuity of the wheel, hewn out of half of a tree trunk, enabled movement by carts and later, railways which were first constructed of wooden tracks and wagons. The industrial uses of wood are many from the pallet to the mill.

Wood was also used to construct religious and leisure buildings from the earliest henge to the 14th century Salisbury Cathedral with the wooden structure of its 123 metre (404feet) spire still in place within the modern steeple. Other examples included the beautiful early 15th century Westminster Hall and the 16th century Globe Theatre. We have created objects of wood that have given us our greatest pleasure, from the touch and look of carved furniture to musical instruments. Max proposed the violin as the most outstanding artistic expression of the Wood Age.

One could say the ending of the Wood Age was 1779 with the erection of the first Iron Bridge. However it was agreed that the knowledge gained from working with wood has been used ever since, even with modern materials. Indeed, wood continues to be chosen for homes as well as the 85.4 metre multi-functional timber tower in Norway, currently the tallest timber building in the world. Looking to the future a Japanese company are planning to build the first wooden satellite. By the end of our talk we could appreciate that wood has long been a part of our lives, and it would be hard to visualise a world without it.

Max has an encyclopaedic knowledge of wood and the trees from which it comes. His stories and illustrations showed his love of the subject and ensured that we paid rapt attention to a very engaging speaker.

Sandra Gann 28th October 2022