How a student cut down the oldest tree on the planet

What's left of "Prometheus"

In 1964, a young American graduate student named Donald Currey received a grant to research the climatology of the past, more specifically, the Little Ice Age, which lasted from about the 16th to the 19th century. As a direction, Donald chose dendroclimatology, as the most convenient way for him to obtain data on the climate of those distant times, and went in search of a suitable tree. (Dendroclimatology is a science that studies the relationship between the width of the annual rings on tree cuts and the climatic conditions that occurred in that year. The wider the ring, the more favorable for the tree that year was. That means it was warm and there was no drought.)

Donald purchased equipment, including a special drill he ordered from Sweden, and went to one of the national parks near Wheeler Peak (Nevada, USA).

Walking around the forest, he looked for old trees from which to obtain samples, and came across an old bristlecone pine. As he later said, he literally chose the first tree he came across, which looked quite old, and immediately began drilling. However, the tree was very dense, and it became more and more difficult to drill. After prolonged attempts, the drill broke and firmly stuck in the trunk of a pine tree. It was a disaster! There is no other drill, you have to place an order again. It will take time, there is no way to make it by the end of the year, and the research has already been paid for by the state.

In complete frustration, Donald went away from the mountain, but to his joy he met a local huntsman on the way and told him about what had happened. The huntsman entered his position, and offered to simply take, and cut down the tree. They have such trees stuck all over the mountain. One more, one less - there is not much difference. Rapidly called the US Forest Service and, having received the go-ahead, went back up the mountain.

The tree was sawed for a long time, but finally they managed. For Donald, this made life much easier - it is much easier to count the rings by the saw cut than by the column obtained with the help of a drill. He cut a layer for himself, and went home with him - to count the rings and measure their width.

Armed with a magnifying glass (the rings of this tree are rather thin, since it grows slowly), Donald went deep into the work. Every 50 years - put a mark so that if it gets lost, it would be easy to find a starting point. It took quite a long time to count. The tree turned out to be actually old. Only by the end of the first day, Donald had gone into the past for as much as a thousand years, but did not move to the center of the saw cut and half! On the second day, Don moved back to biblical times. Jesus was born and crucified, Moses roamed Egypt, and the tree grew. And even then, it should be noted, it was far from young. As a result, Donald counted 4844 rings. He was shocked. The oldest tree at that time was "only" 4600 years old. Donald Kury has found the most ancient organism on earth!

And killed him ...

For completeness, I want to inform you that each tree had its own name. Buddha grows there, Methuselah lives, stands on Mount Socrates. The pine tree number WPN-114, so unsuccessfully chosen by Donald, was called Prometheus.

About two years passed, and information about the death of Prometheus reached the masses. Of course, there was a scandal, and Donald Kury and the gamekeepers who helped him cut the tree were attacked. As a result, this tragedy nevertheless led to some positive results. A nature reserve was founded at the site of the death of Prometheus.

After this incident, Donald retired from dendrochronology for good. He switched to the study of salt lakes and made a successful career. However, despite a very successful career, Donald will always be remembered by the public as the killer of the world's oldest tree.