• In addition, particular tree species may present “missing rings”, and this influences the selection of trees for study of long time-spans.

  • Moreover, wood from ancient structures with known chronologies can be matched to the tree-ring data (a technique called cross-dating), and the age of the wood can thereby
    be determined precisely.

  • [27] This can be done by checking radiocarbon dates against long master sequences, with Californian bristle-cone pines in Arizona being used to develop this method of calibration
    as the longevity of the trees (up to c.4900 years) in addition to the use of dead samples meant a long, unbroken tree ring sequence could be developed (dating back to c. 6700 BC).

  • As well as dating them, this can give data for dendroclimatology, the study of climate and atmospheric conditions during different periods in history from the wood of old

  • Additional studies of European oak trees, such as the master sequence in Germany that dates back to c. 8500 BC, can also be used to back up and further calibrate radiocarbon

  • [27] Timber core samples are sampled and used to measure the width of annual growth rings; by taking samples from different sites within a particular region, researchers can
    build a comprehensive historical sequence.

  • Visible rings result from the change in growth speed through the seasons of the year; thus, critical for the title method, one ring generally marks the passage of one year
    in the life of the tree.

  • [45] Many prehistoric forms of buildings used “posts” that were whole young tree trunks; where the bottom of the post has survived in the ground these can be especially useful
    for dating.

  • Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is the scientific method of dating tree rings (also called growth rings) to the exact year they were formed in a tree.

  • For instance, the bristlecone pine is exceptionally long-lived and slow growing, and has been used extensively for chronologies; still-living and dead specimens of this species
    provide tree-ring patterns going back thousands of years, in some regions more than 10,000 years.

  • Solar storms[edit] Solar storms of known date, such as the ones in 774-775 and 993-994, can provide a fixed reference point in an unknown sequence as they cause a spike in
    carbon 14 in tree rings for that year all round the world.

  • [29] Reference sequences[edit] European chronologies derived from wooden structures initially found it difficult to bridge the gap in the fourteenth century when there was
    a building hiatus, which coincided with the Black Death,[30].

  • The inner portion of a growth ring forms early in the growing season, when growth is comparatively rapid (hence the wood is less dense) and is known as “early wood” (or “spring
    wood”, or “late-spring wood”[19]); the outer portion is the “late wood” (sometimes termed “summer wood”, often being produced in the summer, though sometimes in the autumn) and is denser.

  • [21] Critical to the science, trees from the same region tend to develop the same patterns of ring widths for a given period of chronological study.

  • However, unlike analysis of samples from buildings, which are typically sent to a laboratory, wooden supports for paintings usually have to be measured in a museum conservation
    department, which places limitations on the techniques that can be used.

  • While archaeologists can date wood and when it was felled, it may be difficult to definitively determine the age of a building or structure in which the wood was used; the
    wood could have been reused from an older structure, may have been felled and left for many years before use, or could have been used to replace a damaged piece of wood.

  • [31] Given a sample of wood, the variation of the tree-ring growths not only provides a match by year, but can also match location because climate varies from place to place.

  • Hence, for the entire period of a tree’s life, a year-by-year record or ring pattern builds up that reflects the age of the tree and the climatic conditions in which the tree

  • A tree-ring history whose beginning- and end-dates are not known is called a floating chronology.

  • However, for a precise date of the death of the tree a full sample to the edge is needed, which most trimmed timber will not provide.

  • To eliminate individual variations in tree-ring growth, dendrochronologists take the smoothed average of the tree-ring widths of multiple tree-samples to build up a ring history,
    a process termed replication.

  • [9] In the U.S., Alexander Catlin Twining (1801–1884) suggested in 1833 that patterns among tree rings could be used to synchronize the dendrochronology of various trees and
    thereby to reconstruct past climates across entire regions.

  • [8] They found that in 1709, a severe winter produced a distinctly dark tree ring, which served as a reference for subsequent European naturalists.

  • It also gives data on the timing of events and rates of change in the environment (most prominently climate) and also in wood found in archaeology or works of art and architecture,
    such as old panel paintings.

  • [2] As of 2020, securely dated tree-ring data for the Northern Hemisphere are available going back 13,910 years.

  • [34] Climatology[edit] Main article: dendroclimatology Dendroclimatology is the science of determining past climates from trees primarily from the properties of the annual
    tree rings.

  • The most recent part, going back 13,900 years, is based on tree rings.

  • [11] During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the scientific study of tree rings and the application of dendrochronology began.

  • It can be anchored by cross-matching a section against another chronology (tree-ring history) whose dates are known.

  • Direct reading of tree ring chronologies is a complex science, for several reasons.

  • First, contrary to the single-ring-per-year paradigm, alternating poor and favorable conditions, such as mid-summer droughts, can result in several rings forming in a given

  • While the house had long been claimed to have been built circa 1640 (and being the oldest wood-framed house in North America), core samples of wood taken from a summer beam
    confirmed the wood was from an oak tree felled in 1637–8, as wood was not seasoned before use in building at that time in New England.

  • [42] While dendrochronology has become an important tool for dating oak panels, it is not effective in dating the poplar panels often used by Italian painters because of the
    erratic growth rings in poplar.

  • [37] A portrait of Mary Queen of Scots, determined to date from the sixteenth century by dendrochronology Since panels of seasoned wood were used, an uncertain number of years
    has to be allowed for seasoning when estimating dates.

  • Researchers can compare and match these patterns ring-for-ring with patterns from trees which have grown at the same time in the same geographical zone (and therefore under
    similar climatic conditions).

  • This makes it possible to determine the source of ships as well as smaller artifacts made from wood, but which were transported long distances, such as panels for paintings
    and ship timbers.

  • Consequently, dating studies usually result in a “terminus post quem” (earliest possible) date, and a tentative date for the arrival of a seasoned raw panel using assumptions
    as to these factors.

  • [43] The sixteenth century saw a gradual replacement of wooden panels by canvas as the support for paintings, which means the technique is less often applicable to later paintings.

  • Douglass sought to better understand cycles of sunspot activity and reasoned that changes in solar activity would affect climate patterns on earth, which would subsequently
    be recorded by tree-ring growth patterns (i.e., sunspots, climate, tree rings).

  • Many trees in temperate zones produce one growth-ring each year, with the newest adjacent to the bark.

  • A similar technique is used to estimate the age of fish stocks through the analysis of growth rings in the otolith bones.

  • A new layer of wood is added in each growing season, thickening the stem, existing branches and roots, to form a growth ring.

  • Using tree rings, scientists have estimated many local climates for hundreds to thousands of years previous.


Works Cited

[‘1. The term “dendrochronology” was coined in 1928 by the American astronomer Andrew Ellicott Douglass (1867–1962). Douglass, A.E. (1928). Climatic Cycles and Tree Growth. Vol. II. A Study of the Annual Rings of Trees in relation to Climate and Solar
Activity. Washington, D.C., USA: Carnegie Institute of Washington. p. 5. From p. 5: “One can see that in all this we are measuring the lapse of time by means of a slow-geared clock within trees. For this study the name “dendro-chronology” has been
suggested, or “tree-time.” ”
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 Studhalter, R. A. (April 1956). “Early History of Crossdating”. Tree-Ring Bulletin. 21: 31–35. hdl:10150/259045. (Condensed from: Studhalter, R. A. (1955).
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o più secchi la maggiore o minore loro grossezza.” (The rings around the branches of trees that have been sawed show the number of its years and which [years] were the wetter or drier [according to] the more or less their thickness.)
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George (1954) “Queries and Answers: Query 145. — When was tree-ring analysis discovered?”, Isis, 45 (4): 383–384. Sarton also cites a diary of the French writer Michel de Montaigne, who in 1581 was touring Italy, where he encountered a carpenter who
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& de different nombre de ces couches, tant dans le bois formé que dans l’aubier” Archived 2015-05-09 at the Wayback Machine (On the cause of the eccentricity of the woody layers that one sees when one horizontally cuts the trunk of a tree ; on the
unequal thickness, and on the different number of layers in the mature wood as well as in the sapwood), Mémoires de l’Académie royale des science, in: Histoire de l’Académie royale des sciences …, pp. 121–134.
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Photo credit:’]