The oldest spruce tree in the world
It is said that every man must do three things in life: plant a tree, have a child and build a house. Ernest Hemingway allegedly added a fourth, i.e., writing a novel. Let’s focus on the trees, commonly liked by everyone. During our childhood they are favourably disposed towards being used as elevated playground area. Thereafter we will appreciate their existence without climbing their branches. As a matter of fact we are dependant on them, an acknowledgment that stimulates our imagination when it comes to the aged specimens. Plenty of trees in Scandinavia and very old ones too.
Close to the Norwegian border, in northwestern Dalarna is the Fulufjället National Park. Steep canyons, valleys with lush ancient forest, a mountain plateau granting majectic views and Njupeskär, officialy the highest waterfall in Sweden. Also here stands the oldest known living spruce tree. Useless trying to find it, as it’s exact location is being kept unknown to the public, to avoid damage from highly enthousiastic visitors. If you are lucky, you’ll just run into it by chance.
The end of the last Ice Age and Old Tjikko
“Is that all….?” Your first encouter with a unique spruce tree might be confusing indeed. It is so small, so frail, compared to the aged giants elsewhere on the planet. Still, the ‘Old Tjikko’ as it is named, comes with a story. The world’s oldest known living spruce, 9550 years old, was identified as such in 2004 by professor Leif Kullman from Umeå University. His research team discovered that this spruce (Picea abies) survived here as an individual tree since it first took root at the end of the last Ice Age, around 11.000 years ago.
The climate was warmer during this period then it is now by the way. The spruce’s ability to clone itself explains the longevity: we are talking about a root system that has been growing here for 9550 years. What you see now is a few meters high Christmas tree, probable not the one you would bring into your home because of the frayed looks, but certainly one with a hint to a distant past. To put things in a broader perspective for a moment, one may compare the early years of this spruce, struggling in this cold climate, with the building fever elsewhere: the Neolithic Tower of Jericho was constructed in a village of settled hunters-gatherers, also about 11.000 years ago.
Intriguing facts. In addition the ecological research shows that the former general conception, being that spruce immigrated from far east Russia into Scandinavia some 2000-3000 years ago, must be adjusted. Meanwhile there have been found megafossil wood remains on early deglaciated nunataks, for example Mount Areskutan, which is reported to be 13.800 years old!
Nunataks (from the Inuit nunataq): the exposed ridges or peaks of mountains protruding from glacial cover
Concurrently, in Turkey
Curious about what materialized in the Levant in those days? Take a look at possibly the world’s oldest full size human statue, created 13.500 years ago. It was named the ‘Balıklıgöl Statue’, excavated in the ancient Kurdisch city of Sanliurfa. Not so many trees to be found in this hot Turkish plains for that matter. Notwithstanding the archaeological importance of this statue, the appearance not likely provokes awed silence on account of its sculptural marvel. What may be intruiging however is the question why and how it was made in those bygone times. Here is a hypothetical course of the preliminary deliberations, originated from the assumption that mankind has the wish, the urge and the ability to invent and to create.
It is late in the evening and two friends are sitting outside. They had their meal, they watched the stars and now they are wondering what to do next. They feel a bit bored, looking for something new, something adventurous or at least something that they have not been doing ever before. After thinking a while, number one comes up with an idea: “You know what, let’s make a sculpture!” His friend looks puzzled. “Huhm. Is it a new tool you are talking about? You know I’m not good at that.” Number one, shaking his head, insists: “no tools today, this is just one of those kind of things – so rumour has it – that portray someone, preferably a human. Could be also an animal though, but I’m tired of them all, having to hunt them before I can have dinner.” Number two, still hesitant but at the same time aware of the potential impact of their project, agrees. “Allright then. Let’s give it a try. You will act as the model and I’ll do the sculpting. Could be there’s a future in it for me!”
An inconvenient truth: less is more
Let’s get back to the alpine treeline and the ongoing research. The importance of such findings for today’s world is that they reveal the various circumstances and conditions of a habitat. This sheds new light on the ecological changes of landscapes in relation to climate change, and not only concerning former times. During the past century for instance there has been a significant uphill treeline shift. In general, statistics show how economic growth go together with increasing CO2 emissions. It is history and archaeology that can tell us more about human beings: where they lived and what they did. Geologists and biologists will inform us on the history of the planet where we live and on which resources we thrive. Their research may come up with results that are inconvenient because they do not match with the ambition of economic growth. ‘Less is more’ is not something we are highly acquainted with, so it does not feel comfortable right away….As far as I am concerned, statues and trees do not speak. Facts and figures, however, do.
When the last tree is cut, the last fish eaten and the last stream polluted, you will realize that you cannot eat money (Cree proverb)
- Fulufjället National Park in Dalarna. About 140 km marked trails. Suitable for all.
- The Nature centre (Naturum) at the entrance of the park. Exibitions, documentaries, maps and beautiful wetland view. Children love this place.
- Overnight camping is admitted in certain areas. Consider going up, where you can stay on the mountain plateau. Lake and streams available! And always delighted mosquitos to keep you company.
- For daytours: it can be hot in summer, bring enough water and wear a cap.
Featured image: Fulufjället. Photograph J. van Marsdijk, 2012.