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History of Dendrochronology

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History of Dendrochronology. dendron (= “tree”) chronos (= “time”) - logy (= the study of). Dendrochronology.

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dendron (= “tree”)

chronos (= “time”)

- logy (= the study of)


Dendrochronology: The science that uses tree rings dated to their exact year of formation to analyze temporal and spatial patterns of processes in the physical and cultural sciences. 

early scientists that have explored tree rings
Theophrastus in Greece 322 B.C.

Leonardo Da Vinci in Italy ca. 1500

Duhamel and Buffon in France 1737

A.C. Twinning in Connecticut in 1827

Theodor Hartig in Germany in 1837

Charles Babbage in England in 1838

Jacob Kuechler in Texas in 1859

Robert Hartig in Germany in 1867

A.E. Douglass in Arizona in 1904

Early Scientists That Have Explored Tree Rings
Theophrastus of Erusus

Greece 322 B.C.

Pupil of Aristotle

Wrote “History of Plants” in 9 volumes

Last volume titled “Causes of Plants”

Mentioned growth rings in two fir species

Recognized the annual nature of tree rings

leonardo da vinci
Leonardo da Vinci

“Rings in the branches of sawed trees show the number of years and, according to their thickness, the years which were more or less dry. Thus, they reflect the individual worlds to which they belong, in the north [of Italy] they are much thicker than in the south.”


Duhamel du Monceau, H.-L., and Comte de Buffon, G.L.L. 1737. Recherches de la cause de l\'excentricité des couches ligneuses qu\'on appercoit quand on coupe horizontalement le tronc d\'un arbre; de l\'inégalité d\'épaisseur, and du different nombre de ces couches, tant dans le bois formé que dans l\'aubier. [Investigations into the cause of the eccentricity of the woody layers that one observes when the trunk of a tree is horizontally cut; inequality in thickness, of different numbers of these layers, as well as the wood formed in the sapwood.] In: P. Mortier, ed., Histoires de l\'Académie Royale des Sciences Année 1737, avec les Mémoires de Mathématique & de Physique, pour la meme Année. Amsterdam: 171-191.

Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau


Twining, A.C. 1833. On the growth of timber. American Journal of Science and Arts 24: 391-393.

“Every tree had preserved a record of the seasons, for the whole period of its growth…might not this natural, unerring, graphical record of seasons past, deserve as careful preservation as a curious mineral or a new form of crystals?”

“Such a comparison… might prove the means of carrying back our knowledge of the seasons, through a period coeval with the age of te oldest forest trees.”


Charles Babbage (1791 – 1871)

“If we found on several trees a remarkably large annual ring, followed at the distance of seven years by a remarkably thin ring, and this again, after two years, followed by another large ring, we should reasonably infer that seven years after a season highly favourable to the growth of these trees, there had occurred a season peculiarly unfavourable to them: that after two years another favourable season had happened, and that all the trees so observed had existed at the same period of time.”

“Let us suppose that we find, in one section, two remarkably large rings, separately from another large ring, by one very stinted ring, and this followed, after three ordinary rings, by two very small and two very large ones… indicated by letters:

L L s L o o o s s L L


Robert Hartig

1839-1901 Professor at Forest Academy, Eberswalde Germany

Theodor Hartig

“Fraget die Bäume! Besser als alle Bücherweisheit werden sie euch sagen, wie sie behandelt sein wollen.” -- 1853, in Uber die Entwicklung des Jahresringes der Holzpflanzen

Botanist interested in forest growth = silviculture

1805-1880 Professor of Forestry Sciences at the University of Berlin


Jacob Kuechler, Texas, 1859

Campbell, T.N. 1949. The pioneer tree-ring work of Jacob Kuechler. Tree-Ring Bulletin 15(3): 16-20.

Kuechler was a forester from Germany, settled in Texas in 1847.

Used post oak trees (Quercus stellata) that 125 years later proved to be critical for understanding past climate in the south-central U.S.

“Our records are of such recent date that we must turn to the annals of Nature, particularly of the plant world. A tree contains the record of its life history, and this history is most closely interwoven with the annual rainfall.”

Noted repeating patterns of dry years and wet years in the ring record.


Enos Mills (1838–1922)

John Muir (1838–1914)


Andrew E. Douglass (1867-1962)

is regarded as the “father” of

Dendrochronology. Douglass was a

student of the famous astronomer

Percival Lowell who, in 1894, sent

Douglass across the country to

build an observatory in Arizona.

While acquiring the timber for the

observatory’s construction,

Douglass noticed similar ring-width

patterns in the stumps of the trees

cut for construction.

By the early 1920s, Douglass had

pioneered the science of dendro-

chronology, most importantly,

the principle of crossdating which

he applied to a variety of different

disciplines from climatology to

astronomy to archaeology.


Douglass, A.E. 1929. The secret of the southwest solved by talkative tree rings. National Geographic Magazine 56(6):736-770.

douglass in storeroom
Douglass in Storeroom

Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, Tucson, Arizona 1940 (established 1937)

douglass in office
Douglass in Office

Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, Tucson, Arizona 1941

early dendrochronologists
Early Dendrochronologists

Fred Scantling, Sid Stallings, A.E. Douglass, Edmund Schulman, James Louis Giddings 1946

subfields of dendrochronology
Dendroarchaeology: Dating of archaeological dwellings and objects.

Dendroclimatology: Analyzing the climate response in trees and/or developing a record of past climate.

Dendroecology: Recording ecological processes such as treeline change, insect outbreaks, or forest stand history.

Dendropyrochronology: Dating the past occurrence of forest fires.

Dendrogeomorphology: Dating land surface movements (such as landslides) in the past.

Dendrohydrology: Creating a record of past water availability, streamflow, and flooding.

Dendroglaciology: Dating past movements of glaciers.

Dendrovolcanology: Dating the past eruptions of volcanoes.

Dendroentomology: The use of tree rings to reconstruct past population levels of insects.

Dendrochemistry: Using tree rings as a monitor of the chemical makeup of the environment.

Subfields of Dendrochronology
individual tree species that can live to be at least 1 000 years old that we know of
Intermountain bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva D.K. Bailey), 4,844 years old

Alerce (Fitzroya cuppressoides (Molina) Johnston), 3,620 years old

Giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum (Lindl.) Buchholz), 3,300 years old

Rocky Mountain bristlecone pine (Pinus aristata Engelm.), 2,425 years old

Coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens (D.Don) Endl.), 2,200 years old

Foxtail pine (Pinus balfouriana Grev. & Balf.), 2,110 years old

Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum Sarg.), 1,889 years old

Limber pine (Pinus flexilis James), 1,670 years old

Alaska yellow-cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis (D.Don) Spach), 1,636

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum (L.) Rich.), 1,622 years old

Western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis Hook.), 1,288 years old

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco), 1,275 years old

Huon pine (Lagarostrobus franklinii C.J. Quinn), 1,089 years old

Northern white-cedar (Thuja occidentalis L.), 1,032 years old

Himalayan Hemlock (Tsuga dumosa (D.Don) Eichler) 1,011 years old

Individual tree species that can live to be at least 1,000 years old (that we know of):
international tree ring data bank itrdb
International Tree Ring Data Bank (ITRDB)

The Ultimate Tree-Ring Web Pages