The Investigation

The University of Oregon researchers have submitted findings for publication in a scientific journal.  Until they are published (soon), I can only release limited information.  Please check back. As of March 26, 2013, this is what I can share:

  • It is redwood:  A sample was sent to the Center for Wood Anatomy Research at the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison Wisconsin.  On 9/17/07 they confirmed that it is a redwood,  either Sequoia sempervirens (coast redwood) or Sequoiadendron (giant redwood).
  • Its age at death is undetermined: A core device was used to drill in near the base of the tree, to the maximum depth of the device.  It contained 146 tree rings.  The tree is hollow and is charred by fire, making it impossible to count all the rings by direct observation.  Based on its eroded diameter of 198 centimeters, we can surmise that it was an old growth tree, more than 146 years old.
  • It is very old: Two Carbon 14 date samples were taken from different parts of the tree and sent to separate laboratories for independent confirmation.  I will post the factual information after it is published. For now I can say that it was contemporaneous with Jesus and may have died when Trajian was Emperor of Rome.
  • It did not die in the earthquake and tsunami of 1700:  It has been reported in the newsmedia that the tree may have drowned after the well document mega-thrust earthquake that devastated the northwest on January 26, 1700.  Before the tree was dated, I thought this to be true. However, the Carbon 14 dates show that this tree “witnessed” several earthquakes and tsunamis. And if it is driftwood, it may have been deposited by a previous tsunami.
  • What about Ground Penetrating Radar? As part of the investigation, the area was mapped with Ground Penetrating Radar.  The official results will be included in the science article to be published soon.

Discussion of Historical accounts regarding ancient soil: 

The shallow root systems of coastal redwoods rarely go deeper than six feet into the earth, though they may spread widely in all directions around the tree. A layer of thick, damp mulch on the forest floor is essential to the health of these trees. Some of the tallest redwoods grow in alluvial soil along the banks of slow meandering creeks and streams that are subject to flooding and deposition of nutrients.

If Big Stump grew at its present location, is there evidence of an ancient soil?

Matthew Edwards of GPR Data
Collects data Feb 19, 2008

And even if one existed 2000 years ago, is there reason to expect that it hasn’t eroded away? What lies beneath several feet of beach sand?Fortunately, we have some indication from eyewitness accounts recorded in historical documents such as memoirs and biographies of early residents. One of the most intriguing stories is contained in the 1959 memoir of Lenora Reynolds Strake. Her family moved to what she called “the Big Stump country” in 1883 when she was six years old, and she lived there her whole life:“There isn’t much left of the Big Stump. It stands well out from the fluff near three miles south of Waldport. When we lived there it was a really big stump. It is redwood and was standing in its own soil—a thick black muck that used to be covered sometimes by the heavy surf when the gray sand was washed out. There are many places along our beach that are underlaid by this same muck and there are old logs and stumps and roots partly petrified imbedded in it.  

“My brother and I used to climb the big stump and look down inside—it was hollow and partly filled with shells.  My folks asked the Indians why the shells. They said that it had always been a rule that when an Alsea Indian went to Yachats or one of the Yachats tribe went to the bay they always threw in a shell when they passed—sort of a tollgate.  They also said that their ancestors remembered seeing the old stump emerge from the bluff—by erosion, of course.  So all this sandstone and top soil was laid down on top of an ancient redwood forest. It shows also, how our coast line is receding.”

Lenora Reynolds Strake seems to be a credible witness:  she taught school, authored several stories for local newspapers, and held the position of postmistress in 1917.  But how could she have seen what lies beneath Big Stump?  An earlier entry in her memoir states:

“It took a little cash to get by. My father and his brothers, as did others, got theirs out of the beach sand.  When heavy tides had washed out the gray sand down to the black sand that lay just underneath where you could get at it, they rigged up their sluice boxes made of rough lumber, got their shovels and went to work and ended their day’s work in their gold pans…to mine for gold, they had to have plenty of water.  When I was a child this beach country was cut with mining ditches.” 

Straker’s story is backed-up by other writers. In his biography of Annie Miner Peterson, an Oregon Coast Indian woman, Lionel Youst writes that Annie’s mother Matilda teamed up with an Alsea Indian named Kinv:

They were both hard workers, and they were survivors.  They worked for Joel Winkler shoveling black sand onto the chute at what was then called Winkler Creek, a poorly paying placer mine near Big Stump Beach.  Matilda and Kinv together were paid one dollar per day.” 

Marjorie H. Hays, another early resident of the area, has made several related entries in her book, The Land That Kept Its Promise.   She adds another level of understanding of how the beaches change over time:

“When the sand is washed down to bedrock, as it was in 1915-16 and in January 1975, conditions were ideal for mining in creek outlets.  In the bedrock years of the past at least fifty people worked at sluicing and could make as high as $20 per day…

            “Some winters’ tidal action washes away the gray sand to expose the black, gold-bearing sand spread over bedrock.  The beach miner staked out small sections, each worked only once, and shoveled sand into small piles, so that none was lost, and they were hauled to the sluice boxes.  More often a dam had to be built to supply sluice water.  The sluices might run several hundred feet at Big Creek.”  (Big Creek is south of Big Stump)

It is commonly said in science that absence of proof is not proof of absence.  But for now, physical proof of an ancient soil is lacking.