Ancient Tree Not So Old After All

A large oak tree dug up last summer in a southern Indiana gravel pit is about 2,000 years old — far younger than scientists' preliminary estimate. Scientists who examined the log last year initially speculated it could be 6,000 years old.

However, radiocarbon testing that measures the radioactive decay of carbon in materials determined that the oak log is about 2,000 years old, said Anthony Swinehart, an associate professor of biology at Hillsdale College in Michigan.

"It isn't quite what we thought, but from a scientific standpoint it is still good news," he said.

He said the ancient tree's growth rings, which capture a year-by-year record of the tree's seasonal growth, could shed light on the weather in that long-ago time.

A dredge operator found the tree — its root crown and much of the bark was still intact — last summer under 40 feet of sand and gravel at Lee's Ready Mix County Materials gravel pit near Brownstown, 60 miles south of Indianapolis.

The tree's geologically recent age should have little effect on the value of lumber from the tree, said John Chiarotti, vice president and general manager of Amos-Hill Associates, the veneer mill in Edinburgh where workers cut into the log last month.

While there is no formal plan to market lumber or veneer from the log, he said pieces cut from it appear to be holding up to the drying process.

"I think there would be some unique opportunities for it," Chiarotti said. "There could be a multitude of uses — furniture, knickknacks, tables, paneling."