Swedish trees older than the universe?
A closer look at a claim about the world’s oldest trees—allegedly older than the biblical date of creation.
This is the pre-publication version which was subsequently revised to appear in Creation 31(2):23.
A cluster of trees discovered in western Sweden’s mountains are claimed to be the oldest living trees in the world. At the claimed ‘date’ of 8,000 years, the trees (ironically called ‘Norway spruces’) would not only be thousands of years prior to the biblical date of the global Flood, but some 2,000 years older than the date of creation itself.
Accustomed as one is to ‘dating claims’ of millions of years, one might be tempted here to say, ‘So what?’ After all, the claim only contradicts the Bible by a couple of thousand years or so.
But the reason we respond to this article is because most readers of the media article trumpeting the claim1 are likely to automatically assume that the age has been determined by counting the annual growth rings. This process seems a foolproof way to determine the age, one with far fewer assumptions and uncertainties than in radiometric dating.
And contrary to the allegations of some biblioskeptics, the Bible’s claims do need to (and do) stand up to scrutiny against real-world data. If the Bible were mistaken in its factual accounts of history, how could it be trusted on its claims concerning our eternal destiny (cf. John 3:12)?
So what is going on?
It has already been established that a tree may put down more than one ‘annual’ layer per year. But in any case, when one closely examines the article, it seems that the age was not determined by tree-ring dating, but by carbon dating, with all of its well-known sources of error, not to mention assumptions.
C14 dating of living trees?
But this is curious, too. The whole methodology of radiocarbon (C14) dating involves the notion that the organism has died, and is no longer exchanging carbon with its environment. So a specimen is ‘dated’ using the time of death of the organism as the starting point. So how can a live tree be shown to have died 8,000 years ago?
The answer to this apparent conundrum is suggested by the same article’s comment that ‘a single tree trunk can become at most about 600 years old’. In other words, there is no living specimen that has been ‘dated’ (by any means) at more than 600 years. The article also states that ‘the spruces had survived by pushing out another trunk as soon as the old one died.’ In other words, the trees cloned themselves. This suggests that the dating was trying to establish when the first of the now-dead trees in that cluster, the progenitor trunk of the ones living now (that are less than 600 years old) commenced the process. Naturally this involves a much more indirect set of assumptions. And, as would make sense, the radiocarbon dating only involved a dead specimen.2
Another article on the same discovery seems to confirm all this, that the age is not from tree-ring dating, but from the much shakier radiocarbon dating.3 The item refers to even older dates (9,550 years), and makes it clear that this result was from pieces of wood found beneath the living trees, not sampled from them. It also confirms that the specimens with the old dates had the same genetic material as the now-living trees (i.e. were clones).
There are living trees that are thousands of years old, like California’s giant redwoods. But these are actually great evidence for the global Flood. Why? Because if something has survived for a few thousand years, it seems there is no reason why some of them should not still be alive after, say, 10 or 20 thousand years. But there are none that old. Allowing for the occasional additional ring per season, the tree-ring ages of the earth’s oldest trees all fit with the idea that all trees growing on the planet were killed or uprooted by the Genesis Flood, some 4,500 years ago.
The lesson is that when things look as if they contradict the Bible, it’s always worth taking a closer look. Especially if it’s something in the popular media.
- Pollard, N., Swedish spruce may be world’s oldest living tree, planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/47931/story.htm, April 14, 2008, available via web.archive.org. Return to text.
- This is reminiscent of another time when the media trumpeted an ancient tree, growing in Tasmania, Australia, allegedly 10,000 years old—there too, it was not tree-ring dating that gave rise to the age at all. See Living tree ‘8,000 years older than Christ’ (?), Creation 17(3):26–27, 1995. Return to text.
- World’s oldest living tree discovered in Sweden, phys.org/news/2008-04-world-oldest-tree-sweden.html, 16 April 2008. Return to text.