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A 16-Million-Year-Old Tree Tells a Deep Story of the Passage of Time

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Paleobotanist Scott Wing hopes that he’s wrong. Even though he carefully counted each ring in an immense, ancient slab of sequoia, the scientist notes that there’s always a little bit of uncertainty in the count. Wing came up with about 260, but, he says, it’s likely a young visitor may one day write him saying: “You’re off by three.” And that would a good thing, Wing says, because it’d be another moment in our ongoing conversation about time.

The shining slab, preserved and polished, is the keystone to consideration of time and our place in it in the “Hall of Fossils—Deep Time” exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. The fossil greets visitors at one of the show’s entrances and just like the physical tree, what the sequoia represents has layers.

Each yearly delineation on the sequoia’s surface is a small part of a far grander story that ties together all of life on Earth. Scientists know this as Deep Time. It’s not just on the scale of centuries, millennia, epochs, or periods, but the ongoing flow that goes back to the origins of our universe, the formation of the Earth, and the evolution of all life, up through this present moment. It’s the backdrop for everything we see around us today, and it can be understood through techniques as different as absolute dating of radioactive minerals and counting the rings of a prehistoric tree. Each part informs the whole.

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GettyImages-584372283.jpgHow many answers are hidden inside the giants? Photo by Kelly Cheng Travel Photography / Getty Images.

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https://getpocket.com/explore/item/a-16-million-year-old-tree-tells-a-deep-story-of-the-passage-of-time?utm_source=pocket_discover

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