Collectors Weekly offers the tragic but educational tale of the accidental felling of a an almost 5,000 year old Great Basin bristlecone tree dubbed “Prometheus”:
Currey downplayed the discovery in a dry essay for Ecology magazine in 1965, in which he stated, “Allowing for the likelihood of missing rings and for the 100-inch height of the innermost counted ring, it may be tentatively concluded that WPN-114 began growing about 4,900 years ago.” Though its exact age is still debated, the Prometheus tree was certainly the oldest single tree scientists had ever encountered.
The Prometheus tree’s felling made it doubly symbolic, as the myth of its namesake captures both the human hunger for knowledge and the unintended negative consequences that often result from this desire. Though members of the scientific community and press were outraged that the tree was killed, Currey’s mistake ultimately provided the impetus to establish Great Basin National Park to protect the bristlecones. The death of the Prometheus tree also helped to change our larger perception of trees as an infinitely replenishing resource. “It’s not going to happen again,” says Shoettle. “But it wasn’t something that I think they struggled with at the time, because it was just a tree, and the mindset was that trees were a renewable resource and they would grow back. And it didn’t seem like it was any particularly special tree.”