A new dendrochronological study of the island’s Unesco painted churches has made it possible to establish the basis of a real biography for some of Cyprus’ most prized monuments, the Cyprus Institute said on Monday.

The institute detailed the work and purpose of the Tracing History and Environment with Tree Rings in Cyprus (TREE) Project, a joint initiative between the institute, Cornell University’s Tree Ring Laboratory, and the antiquities and forestry departments.

The TREE Project studies the cultural heritage of Cyprus through the scientific method of dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating.

“Dendrochronology allows precise dating of wooden materials through the careful study of tree-rings formed every year, and is the key analytical approach to explore dating and historical use of wood materials in buildings and other material culture,” it said.

To this end, the first-of-its-kind Cyprus Dendrochronology Laboratory has been set up, to study “the rich wooden heritage of Cyprus”.

Among the numerous monuments featuring historic wood are the Unesco-protected Painted Churches of Troodos, “a key reference for the art and cultural history of the Mediterranean during the Byzantine-Medieval periods.

“While the significance of these Cypriot sites has been widely recognised and studied, historians and archaeologists continue to debate key aspects of this rich inheritance,” the institute said, explaining that so far, the capacity to date artefacts from these periods was limited as research heavily relied on stylistic associations and the occasional written records.

Dendrochronology provides a secure timeframe that enriches our collective knowledge of these buildings, the institute said.

“Results provide us with a more precise dating of their construction, as well as a better understanding of the complex building histories of the Unesco Painted Churches and their artefacts”.

They can also help researchers recognise, date, and even source the timber used across time, enriching the reconstruction of the evolution of medieval-post-Byzantine architecture and artwork in Cyprus.

“Tree-rings provide invaluable records of past climate and environment conditions and thus can contribute accurate data about the history of the Troodos forests, giving scholars a better understanding of the environmental context of world heritage.

“The dendrochronologists of Cyprus continue to discover new data and unknown histories that shape the ways we see our wooden heritage and its place in our understanding of the past”.