The worlds oldest living things.
December 30, 2004 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Methuselah is 4,767 years of age. The Bristlecone Pines began life during the Third Dynasty in Egypt.
posted by arse_hat (27 comments total)
Best FPP ever.
posted by the wind at 5:52 PM on December 30, 2004

Another Bristlecone named Prometheus was about 4,900, before being cut down in 1964 by a well-meaning scientist who intended to count its rings.
posted by emptyage at 5:56 PM on December 30, 2004

It's interesting watching these trees - and others possibly even older - turn up in the discussion of the "global flood" from 5000 years ago. Here's a reference list of maximum tree ages that I also found to be good reading.
posted by jessamyn at 5:56 PM on December 30, 2004

Here's a long essay about the cutting down of Prometheus.
posted by jessamyn at 6:01 PM on December 30, 2004

Wow! I didnt know they were *that* old! Simple but sublime post. thanks arse_hat.
posted by vacapinta at 6:03 PM on December 30, 2004

By the way, dendrochronology is seriously cool science. Basically, any archaeologist who can pull out wood, or impressions of wood with a reasonable amount of ring structure evident can correlate her find with a database of other tree rings to establish relative chronology for the site she's working on. This is so because larger climate patterns have a fairly standard impact on tree ring development across an entire region, so the patterns are transposable. It's an objective and external timeline that can be imposed on cultural evidence...nature's own stopwatch.

Great post!
posted by felix betachat at 6:07 PM on December 30, 2004

AARP Member # 0000000001
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 6:08 PM on December 30, 2004

Although not single organisms, most coral reefs are between 5,000 and 10,000 years old. Jules Verne mentioned this in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as evidence of an "old Earth," at least older than Bishop Usher's 4004 BC date.
posted by SPrintF at 6:13 PM on December 30, 2004

5,000 years? pffft! a flash in the pan! Try 2 billion!
posted by wilful at 6:27 PM on December 30, 2004

Kind of adds scope to the term, "old growth forest."
posted by FormlessOne at 6:39 PM on December 30, 2004

For those as ignorant as myself, Wikipedia explains the name Methuselah for us:

Methuselah or Metushélach was the oldest person whose age is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. He reportedly reached the age of 969 years. According to the Book of Genesis 5:27: And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died. (ASV)
posted by reflection at 6:45 PM on December 30, 2004

Great link--thanks arse_hat. And thanks too jessamyn for the essay on the cutting down of Prometheus, the oldest tree in the world. I worked a season at Great Basin National Park in the 1980s, and the old timers still talked about it. I was surprised to learn that even the parts of the story I thought were embellishments--how it was strongly suspected that the tree was the oldest but they cut it anyway, that the first sawyer refused to do the deed when he realized which tree was to be cut, and that a young man dropped dead trying to haul out a section of the trunk--are all true. Apparently the tree was cut because it was the oldest, the Forest Service (Department of Agriculture) wanted to thwart the attempt to turn the area into a National Park (which meant turning it over to the Department of the Interior) and believed that Prometheus would be another talking point in favor of park status. So the world's oldest living thing was sacrificed in a bureaucratic turf war.

Up close these trees are astonishing, more dead than alive but with a sculpture-lie quality to them. The wood is so hard and dense and the climate so dry that they do not rot, the dead branches are scoured and polished away by the sand-laden winds.
posted by LarryC at 7:26 PM on December 30, 2004

Great post!Another place to see these magnificent plants
close up, is at a ski area in S.W.Utah(brian head) ski
right up and check it out
posted by hortense at 7:42 PM on December 30, 2004

Ah c'mon reflection, Gershwin explained it MUCH better:

methuzla lived 900 years
methuzla lived 900 years
who called it livin', no god had given
no man lives 900 years

It ain't necessarily so
It ain't necessarily so
The things that you're lible
To read in the Bible,
It ain't necessarily so.
posted by Relay at 8:13 PM on December 30, 2004

Here are some wonderful photos of the Great Basin bristlecones in all their ragged glory.
posted by LarryC at 8:29 PM on December 30, 2004

Great links folks.
These trees remind me of a similar but different phenomenon in Canada’s far north. Along the line between the forested south and the tundra you can find forests of 2 and 3-foot tall trees. The thing that is so wondrous is that those 3-foot trees are 70 or 80 years old.
posted by arse_hat at 8:48 PM on December 30, 2004

Fantastic, arse_hat. Thanks very much.
posted by melissa may at 9:25 PM on December 30, 2004

Very nifty, arse_hat. And thanks for the other links too, everyone.
posted by lobakgo at 9:49 PM on December 30, 2004

wow.... I love you metafilter... I was just talking to a co-worker about this the other day. I had never heard of a methusela tree then and was fascinated. Now I find this great FPP! Very cool!
posted by yossarian1 at 10:22 PM on December 30, 2004

Counting the annual growth rings on a sample of Bristlecone is like counting the pages in a volume of the Britainica by looking only at the edges.
posted by X4ster at 11:04 PM on December 30, 2004

The bristlecone pines have survived for unknown centuries. The current threat is from all the people who come to visit them. "Methuselah", the oldest tree, is not marked due to the threat of vandalism.

And the Huon Pine in Tasmania [h]as people from all over the world fascinated of course- and it has been fenced off so no-one can get anywhere near it, thank goodness. and a wooden boardwalk at Hamelin Pool allows people to view the stromatolites without damaging them.

So sad but each measure is perfectly understandable in each case. No matter how lightly we tread, the oldest living things must be protected from the stress of our regard. Great post and great links in the comments. Well done, people.
posted by y2karl at 11:07 PM on December 30, 2004

My favorite trees have always been the Giant Redwoods. Sure, they may stick around for only 2000-3000 years, but since one of the main forms of reproduction is for new trees to sprout right out of fallen trees, some of the trees living today may actually be genetically identical to trees living 10s of thousands of years ago.
posted by mach at 11:20 PM on December 30, 2004

This post and thread are great; just the sort of thing I began reading Metafilter for. Thanks, everyone!
posted by TedW at 6:00 AM on December 31, 2004

mefi gold. i knew about this but it's stunning nonetheless. what wonderful perspective at the end of the year.

/crowns arse_hat
posted by moonbird at 6:40 AM on December 31, 2004

This is totally a double post. I distinctly remember seeing it here around 420 years ago and then *again* about 212 years ago. Please search before you post!
posted by gwint at 8:35 AM on December 31, 2004

Nova from a few years ago. they still show it now and then. very cool. the Prometheus story is crazy.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2004

I could probably dig around and find this information (I've actually tried before a little), but does anyone know if it's possible to schedule a visit to the tree? I know it's location is kept secret, but perhaps you could be walked there blindfolded and naked.

I mean, would you rather have your picture taken with the world's oldest know living organism or, say, whatever funny famous person you can think of?
posted by freethought at 7:55 PM on December 31, 2004

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