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No. 252 "Vital Articles on Science/Creation" June 1994
Tree Rings and Biblical Chronology
by Frank Lorey, M.A.*
Copyright (c) 1994 by I.C.R.
All Rights Reserved
* Mr. Lorey, M.A., has published many articles in history and geology.
About two miles high, in the White Mountains of eastern California,
grows a unique tree, Pinus aristata (also referred to as Pinus
longaeva). Commonly known as the Bristlecone pine, it is not a tall
or stately appearing tree; it is very slow growing, only one inch in
diameter per 100 years and up to 25-30 feet tall. The remarkable
fact about the tree is that it is noted as the oldest known living thing
in the world, far surpassing the vastly more famous Sequoia trees.
Due to the remote location of Bristlecone forests, few people have heard
of these trees, much less visited the area of their growth.
Tree Ring Research
The Bristlecone pine became famous in scientific circles through the
work of Dr. Edmund Schulman (1908-1958) of the University of Arizona.
His dendrochronological studies spanned almost thirty years, of which
the last five were spent mostly in the White Mountains. Through the
study of annual growth rings of these trees, a fairly precise method of
absolute dating has been obtained. So far, this amazing record from the
Bristlecone pines only applies to the southwestern portion of the United
States and has become useful also to the field of archaeology where
ancient roof beams have been more accurately dated using the tree-ring
The White Mountains rise abruptly east of the Sierra Nevadas,
reaching over 14,000 feet in elevation near the ancient Bristlecone pine
forest. They lie in the rain shadow of the Sierras, with an average
annual rainfall of 10-13 inches. The Bristlecones live between the
elevations of 9,500 and 11,500 feet sculptured into stubby, twisted
shapes by the harsh environment. Needles stay on the trees for up to
thirty years, and seeds of the oldest trees are just as viable as the
A Bristlecone pine tree may comprise up to 90% dead wood -- a thin
vein of living tissue is often surrounded and protected by the dead
wood. The soil in the ancient forest is very alkaline, comprised of
dolomitic limestone, which supports the growth of only one other type of
tree -- the Limber pine. Few other plants survive in these conditions,
and the Bristlecone pine forest appears quite desolate compared to the
environment of most other forests.
Bristlecones grow in other similar areas and were already the focus
of much speculation when Schulman arrived on the scene in 1953. A
reported 4900-year-old tree in the Snake Ridge region of Nevada was
actually discovered to be only 3000 years old. Schulman quickly
found a tree in the White Mountains dating back about 4304 years and
named it Pine Alpha, the first found anywhere with an absolute date
older than 4000 years. During his last season of research -- the
summer of 1957 -- he discovered "Methuselah," a tree dating back 4600
years. No older tree has been discovered since then, and the
Methuselah tree is not marked so as to protect it from souvenir
Schulman's work was carried on and extended after his death by Drs.
H. C. Fritts and Charles W. Ferguson, also of the Laboratory of Tree
Ring Research at the University of Arizona. To tap into trees
without damaging them, a special Swedish incremental borer was used.
Borings up to forty inches long and as thin as pencil lead are removed
from the living trees. Ferguson then started sampling the dead wood
found scattered on the southern slopes of the mountains and found that
the loose dead wood did not match the existing ring patterns. The gap
between living and dead wood was first breached by A. E. Douglas while
testing prehistoric beams in ruins near Show Low, Arizona. Ferguson
was able to make a continuous tree-ring record that eventually reached
8680 years before the present in the mid-1970s. Dating research in
the 1980s did reach a growth-ring series of about 11,300 rings, but has
led to much debate over the possibility of multiple ring growth during
many periods of climatic history.[6,7] This would allow for a more
recent dating than the individual growth rings show. Similar dates have
been obtained in parallel research done on European oak and pine
trees. The dates that were obtained so far have been used to correct
errant radiocarbon dating readings which had significant errors in dates
over 3000 years before present.[1,7] These tree-ring dates offer much in
the way of significance for creation research, particularly the dating
of Noah's flood and ultimately creation.
Ussher's Biblical Chronology
Irish Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) did serious work in Genesis
chapters 5 and 11 to compile genealogical chronologies that were widely
accepted in his day. Scientists such as Isaac Newton believed in
Ussher's work, which was even published for years in the margins of the
King James Version of the Bible, starting in 1701. Ussher placed the
date of Noah's flood at 2350 B.C. and creation at 4004 B.C. Other
Biblical scholars have researched dates for the flood ranging from 3398
B.C. to 2348 B.C. and creation between 3760 B.C. and 5555 B.C.
Of course, "modern" evolutionists have held these dates up for ridicule,
but the Bristlecone pine research may well verify them.
Flood and Creation Dating
The oldest Bristlecone pines now living quite possibly have been
growing since right after the flood. With "Methuselah" going back to
around 2600 B.C. according to Dr. Ferguson, this becomes a very real
possibility. The actual date may be adjusted for extremely wet years
which occurred in the past, as shown by the numerous dry lakes in the
desert regions of eastern California and Nevada. Experiments show the
trees can grow more than one ring in unusual seasons. Some
experiments have even suggested that many periods of time could have
been characterized by the growth of one extra ring every one to four
years, with evidence in controlled laboratory situations showing extra
ring growth tied to short drought periods. These varied conditions
could allow a slightly more recent date which may even closely match
Ussher's date of 2350 B.C.
Even without adjustment, the living Bristlecones do fit well within
the range of dates for the flood provided by numerous Biblical scholars.
However, some recent debate concerning the record of rings found in the
dead wood has led to proposals of much older dates for the flood, and
ultimately creation. Flood dates in the range of 10,000 to 15,000 years
before present have been suggested, but it could be possible that the
preserved dead wood grew in the period before the flood. Only the
living trees by strict necessity need date from the time of the flood or
more recent times. In that case, the pre-flood trees would have to
remain in the same vicinity, probably anchored as stumps, for the period
of around a year until the flood waters receded. The ring-growth record
from the pre-flood period would also have to be as extensive as it is in
the current trees in the forest. If the dead wood was still viable for
sprigs and seeds, this would explain the continued existence of the
Bristlecone pine forest in the same location.
Dead wood, both on the trees and on the ground, have provided a
tree-ring record going back to proposed dates of around 6800 B.C. or
earlier.[6,7] This causes a little bit more problem for the Ussher
dating, but it is not insurmountable. The same argument for multiple
ring growth in wet years could hold, and even the possible pre-flood
greenhouse environment that may have existed on earth may have been a
factor. Also, creation had to involve some superficial appearance of
earth history. Trees were likely created with tree-rings already in
place. Rocks would likely have yielded old dates by the faulty
radioisotope methods in use today. Even man and animals did not appear
as infants. This is known as the "Appearance of Age Theory." Even
with only minor adjustments in the growth-ring-to-year correlation, most
creation scientists would feel quite comfortable with a resulting date
of creation in the 6000-7000 B.C. range.
Did God preserve the Bristlecone pines, with their unique combination
of living and dead wood, as a record of recent creation? We don't know
for sure, but dendrochronology is certainly a science that provides
facts which evolutionists do not care to publicize.
1. Johnson, Russ and Anne, "The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest."
Chalfant Press, Bishop, CA., 1970.
2. Anonymous, "Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest." Government Printing
Office, Washington D.C., 1981.
3. Deetz, James, "Invitation to Archaeology." The Natural History
Press, Garden City, N.Y., 1967, pp. 37-40.
4. Miller, Brian, "Methuselah Walk." Eastern Sierra Interpretive
Association, Bishop, CA., no date.
5. Miller, Brian, "Bristlecone Discovery Trail." Eastern Sierra
Interpretive Association, Bishop, CA., 1977.
6. Aardsma, Dr. Gerald E., "Tree-Ring Dating and Multiple Growth Ring
Per Year." _Creation Research Society Quarterly_, volume 29,
March 1993, pp. 184-189.
7. Beasley, Greg J., "Long-Lived Trees: Their Possible Testimony to a
Global Flood and Recent Creation." _Creation Ex Nihilo Technical
Journal_, vol. 7 (1), 1993, pp. 43-67.
8. Morris, Dr. Henry M., _The Genesis Record._ Baker Book House, Grand
Rapids, MI., 1976, pp. 42-45, 280-285, 308-310, 675.
9. Sippert, Albert, _From Eternity to Eternity_. Sippert Publishing
Company, North Mankato, MN., 1989, pp. 46,47, 188-190.
10. Morris, Dr. Henry M., _The Biblical Basis for Modern Science_. Baker
Book House, Grand Rapids, MI., 1984, pp. 449-454.
11. Brown, Walter T., Jr., _In the Beginning_. Center for Scientific
Creation, Phoenix, AZ., pp. 108, 109.
12. Lammerts, Walter E., "Are the Bristlecone Pine Trees Really So Old?"
_Creation Research Society Quarterly_, volume 20, September 1983,
13. Whitcomb, John C., _The Early Earth_. Baker Book House, Grand
Rapids, MI., 1972, pp. 40-48.
This "Impact" was converted to ASCII, for BBS use,
from the original formatted desktop article.
Comments regarding typographical errors
in the above material are appreciated.
Don Barber, ICR Systems Administrator
Fax: (619) 448-3469
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