We’ve all heard at some point that you can calculate a tree’s age by the number of rings you can count in its trunk. This makes it sound like a tree needs to be dead in order to find its age, but fortunately we have methods of obtaining this information while a tree is alive as well by boring a hole into the center of the trunk and extracting a cylinder of tree that has the rings intact.
Tree rings can tell us more than just age. Because the tree rings are formed by the change in growth speed throughout the year, we can see environmental changes by seeing how well the tree grew. Comparing trees of the same species growing nearby, scientists can determine many things about the environment at the time and the timing of some kinds of events. The study of tree rings for this purpose is called dendrochronology. Dendrochronologists are involved in radiocarbon dating calibration, determining the age of archeological artifacts, especially in art history, and climatology. Historically, many European paintings were painted on wood panels, which were often made from lateral sections of wood, making them ideal for dendrochronology. This science has been used to determine the age and source of many of these panel paintings as well as furniture, sculptures, and even musical instruments. Due to the amazing way in which trees grow, they can help us learn about both our natural and cultural history. Who knew trees were such great teachers?
By Lindsay Malone