The Royal Commission has pioneered the dating of buildings in Wales through dendrochronology, that is the science of dating through the analysis of tree-ring sequences. Oak, the timber most frequently used in historic Welsh buildings, lays down annual growth rings of varying width (depending on the growing conditions) which are rather like a unique fingerprint. If a datable tree-ring sequence extends as far as the bark edge, then a felling date can be obtained precise not only to the year but sometimes the season of felling. We know that buildings tended to be built from ‘green’ (unseasoned) timber and felling dates are therefore an accurate guide to building dates. The Royal Commission sponsors a rolling programme of dendrochronology and the results are published in successive volumes of the journal Vernacular Architecture and are referenced in Coflein.
Tree-ring dating has clarified the date range of the earliest surviving standing buildings in Wales. In particular, the earliest standing houses are now known to date from the earlier C15th after the end of Owain Glyndwr’s revolt. Hafodygarreg (Erwood, Breconshire) is the earliest identified hall-house and was built from timber felled in summer 1402. Aberconwy House (Conwy, Caernarfonshire) is the earliest known town house and was built from timber felled in spring 1420. A full list of dated structures (including defensive, ecclesiastical, and waterlogged structures) has been compiled by R. F. Suggett: Dendrochronology: progess and prospects. In Briggs, C. S. (ed.) 2003. Towards a Research Agenda for Welsh Archaeoology, Oxford: BAR British Series 343.