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Examples of spurious t-values in excess of 7 have been noted, so it is essential that matches with reference chronologies are well replicated, and that this is confirmed with visual matches between the two graphs. In reality, the probability of a particular date being valid is itself a statistical measure depending on the t-values. Consideration must also be given to the length of the sequence being dated as well as those of the reference chronologies.

A sample with 30 or 40 years growth is likely to match with high t-values at varying positions, whereas a sample with consecutive rings is much more likely to match significantly at only one unique position. Samples with ring counts as low as 50 may occasionally be dated, but only if the matches are very strong, clear and well replicated, with no other significant matching positions. Here, it is essential for intra-site matching when dealing with such short sequences.

Consideration should also be given to evaluating the reference chronology against which the samples have been matched: It is general practice to cross-match samples from within the same phase to each other first, combining them into a site master, before comparing with the reference chronologies. After measurement, the ring-width series for each sample was plotted as a graph of width against year on log-linear graph paper or similar graphic display.

Studying Dendrochronology

The graphs or curves for each of the samples in the phase under study are then compared visually at the positions indicated by the computer matching and, if found satisfactory and consistent, are averaged to form a mean curve for the site or phase. This mean curve and any unmatched individual sequences are compared against dated reference chronologies to obtain an absolute calendar date for each sequence. Sometimes, especially in urban situations, timbers may have come from different sources and fail to match each other, thus making the compilation of a site master difficult.

In this situation samples must then be compared individually with the reference chronologies. Therefore, when cross-matching samples between each other, or against reference chronologies, a combination of both visual matching and a process of qualified statistical comparison by computer is used. Of course, a precise felling date is only achievable when the last growth ring beneath the bark is present. For instance, missing rings are rare in oak and elm trees. 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.

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. When one can match these tree-ring patterns across successive trees in the same locale, in overlapping fashion, chronologies can be built up—both for entire geographical regions and for sub-regions. 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.

Dendrochronologists originally carried out cross-dating by visual inspection; more recently, they have harnessed computers to do the task, applying statistical techniques to assess the matching. 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.


A tree-ring history whose beginning- and end-dates are not known is called a floating chronology. It can be anchored by cross-matching a section against another chronology tree-ring history whose dates are known. A fully anchored and cross-matched chronology for oak and pine in central Europe extends back 12, years, [20] and an oak chronology goes back 7, years in Ireland and 6, years in England. Dendrochronological equation defines the law of growth of tree rings. The equation was proposed by Russian biophysicist Alexandr N.

Tetearing in his work "Theory of populations" [24] in the form:. With the neglection of natural sinusoidal oscillations in tree mass, the formula of the changes in the annual ring width is:. The formula is useful for correct approximation of samples data before data normalization procedure.

Dendrochronology makes available specimens of once-living material accurately dated to a specific year.

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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. The techniques of dendrochronology are more consistent in areas where trees grew in marginal conditions such as aridity or semi-aridity where the ring growth is more sensitive to the environment, rather than in humid areas where tree-ring growth is more uniform complacent. In addition, some genera of trees are more suitable than others for this type of analysis. 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, years.

For the period back to 12, B.

Dendrochronology practice faces many obstacles, including the existence of species of ants that inhabit trees and extend their galleries into the wood, thus destroying ring structure. European chronologies derived from wooden structures initially found it difficult to bridge the gap in the 14th century when there was a building hiatus, which coincided with the Black Death , [29] however there do exist unbroken chronologies dating back to prehistoric times, for example the Danish chronology dating back to BC. Given a sample of wood, the variation of the tree-ring growths provides not only a match by year, it can also match location because the climate across a continent is not consistent.

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.

Dendrochronology - Wikipedia

Dates from dendrochronology can be used as a calibration and check of radiocarbon dating [25]. Dendroclimatology is the science of determining past climates from trees primarily from the properties of the annual tree rings. Using tree rings, scientists have estimated many local climates for hundreds to thousands of years previous. Dendrochronology has become important to art historians in the dating of panel paintings.

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. In addition to dating, dendrochronology can also provide information as to the source of the panel. Many Early Netherlandish paintings have turned out to be painted on panels of "Baltic oak" shipped from the Vistula region via ports of the Hanseatic League. Oak panels were used in a number of northern countries such as England, France and Germany.

Wooden supports other than oak were rarely used by Netherlandish painters. Since panels of seasoned wood were used, an uncertain number of years has to be allowed for seasoning when estimating dates. Consequently, dating studies usually result in a " terminus post quem " earliest possible date, and a tentative date for the actual arrival of a seasoned raw panel using assumptions as to these factors.

Dendrochronology: What Tree Rings Tell Us About Past and Present

However, dendrochronology revealed that the wood dated from the second half of the 16th century. It is now regarded as an original 16th-century painting by an unknown artist. On the other hand, dendrochronology was applied to four paintings depicting the same subject, that of Christ expelling the money-lenders from the Temple. The results showed that the age of the wood was too late for any of them to have been painted by Hieronymus Bosch.

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. The 16th 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.

The dating of buildings with wooden structures and components is also done by dendrochronology; dendroarchaeology is the term for the application of dendrochronology in archaeology. 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.

The dating of building via dendrochronology thus requires knowledge of the history of building technology. Herbchronology is the analysis of annual growth rings or simply annual rings in the secondary root xylem of perennial herbaceous plants. It was not until the s that archaeologists saw the benefits of the use of tree ring data in their own field 8 , even though Douglass himself had used his method to date many prehistoric North American artefacts and monuments that had previously not been satisfactorily placed into a definite chronology.

In each growth season, trees create a new ring that reflects the weather conditions of that growth season. On its own, a single record can tell us only a little about the environmental conditions of the time in a specific year of the growth of the tree, and of course the age of the tree at felling, but when we put hundreds and thousands of tree-ring records together, it can tell us a lot more.

Most importantly, assuming there are no gaps in the record and even if there are short gaps , it can tell us the precise year that a certain tree ring grew 4. The potential then, even with these two simple sets of data that we may extrapolate from the tree ring data, is enormous. It is an accurate and reliable dating method with a large number of uses in environmental studies , archaeology and everything in between.

The method has gone from strength to strength and is now a vital method across multiple disciplines. From the s, several seminal studies began at the University of Arizona 6 , 7 studying the bristlecone pine of California and hohenheim oak in Germany. Thanks to the work of these studies, we now have an 8, year chronology for the bristlecone pine and in the region of 12, year chronology for the oak. This enormous and comprehensive data set is fundamental to both European and North American studies of the palaeoclimate and prehistory 8.

There is one major drawback to dendrochronology and that is that we can only date the rings in the tree. This says nothing about either when the particular tree was felled, nor about the date it was used 8. In past times, good quality timber may have been reused 10 and for the archaeologist, it is important to check other records against the new data. Some trees are also better than others for study 5. Tree species vary greatly. In this article we make the assumption that growth is annual with a distinct growing season. Most tree species are reliable; oak is the most reliable tree type for tree rings - with not a single known case of a missing annual growth ring.

Birch and willow are not used at all because of the erratic nature of their growth cycle. Since the changes to the climate since the industrial revolution, some of the more recent dendrochronology records have become erratic 9 and in higher elevations, tree ring data has declined - we are seeing more variability than ever before In times before we had modern treatment of wood, people often drained trees of sap after felling and prior to use of the timber. The removal of the sap, and sometimes the heartwood, can seriously affect the wood's reliability as an artefact for dating A good dendrochronology study depends heavily on a lack of a repeated pattern.

We expect, due to the changing nature of the climate, that each year will have a distinct pattern in the record 9. No pattern is likely to be repeated perfectly but it is certainly possible. All permutations must be examined and, if necessary, check the record against known external information.

Part of the dendrochronological record is also to measure the amount of carbon in the tree sample, because of this lengthy record we will know the exact date that a tree ring was created inside the living organism.