Having lived in Damascus, Syria for the past 10 months, a city widely believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited place on earth, I have become somewhat immune to seeing what are considered to be the most ancient and well preserved ruins in the world today.
A perfect example of this is the Umayyad Mosque in the center of the Old City that I walk past almost every day. This historic building, considered by many to be the fourth most holy place in Islam, has roots much older than its 1296 year history as a mosque.
During the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, the building was a Christian Basilica dedicated to John the Baptist, whose remains are kept in a dedicated mausoleum at the center of the mosque until this very day.
Before the Christian era, the building was a pagan temple dedicated to Jupiter; the grand roman arches just outside the mosque’s entrance stand as a 5000 year old testament to this fact. Even prior to that, the spot where the mosque now stands was a temple of the rain-god Hadad in the Aramaean era of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age.
Living amidst such deep rooted history, one often fails to appreciate the beauty and grandeur that past civilizations have left for us to remember them by. Much like us, nature too leaves such reminders of her glory that are unfortunately also often overlooked.
A group of researchers from the Umea University in Sweden has brought to light one such reminder that puts even the Ummayad mosque’s millennia long history to shame.
The research team has discovered what is considered the world’s oldest recorded tree in the Dalarna province of Sweden. Just how old is this tree, you may be wondering?
A staggering 9550 years old. The spruce tree has shown to have been able to survive by growing between erect trees and smaller bushes in pace with the dramatic climate changes over time. Although spruce trees have been regarded for many years as relative newcomers to the Swedish mountain region, the teams recent discovery disproved this faulty hypothesis. “Our results have shown the complete opposite, that the spruce is one of the oldest known trees in the mountain range,” says Leif Kullman, Professor of Physical Geography at Umeå University.
Strikingly, four generations of spruce remain in the form of cones and wood under the crown of a spruce on the Fulu Mountain in Dalarna. The discovery showed trees of 375, 5,660, 9,000 and 9,550 years old, each with the same genetic makeup. Since spruce trees can multiply with root penetrating braches, they can produce exact copies, or clones.
This fascinating finding has shed light on a vast array of previously unanswered questions about climate change, and is helping the team unravel the answers one by one. “Have the spruces actually migrated here during the Ice Age as seeds from the east 1,000 kilometres over the inland ice that that then covered Scandinavia? Do they really originate from the east, as taught in schools? My research indicates that spruces have spent winters in places west or southwest of Norway where the climate was not as harsh in order to later quickly spread northerly along the ice-free coastal strip,” says Leif Kullman.
While the remains of ancient civilizations such as the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus are a testament to human might and creativity, studies like this one are a humble reminder of nature’s much older and more powerful history.
Discussion Question: Given the rapid transformation occurring in the earth’s climate due to global warming, do you think this tree will be able to learn to survive and adapt?
News Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/04/080416104320.htm
Other papers by the study author, Leif Kullman: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2745.2009.01488.x/full
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