Oral history of British science
Baillie, Mike (Part 6 of 8) An Oral History of British Science
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Queen’s University of Belfast and interviewee’s home, Belfast
Baillie, Mike, 1944- (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 6: [1:10:19] Story of development of undergraduate courses in dating methods/chronology and human evolution (‘early man’) in DA, QUB. Comments on decisions made in devising content of courses, including relations with research, own concern for full clarity in presentation, with examples concerning human evolution. [7:01] Comments on response of undergraduates to human evolution course, including surprise at completeness of record, conflict with religious belief. [10:04] Comments on own atheism. Stories of criticisms of dendrochronology, including Irish TRC, including objections of those with belief in biblical timescales or ‘short’ chronologies including adherents to arguments of Immanuel Velikovsky [IV]. Mentions lack of criticism of Irish TRC from those working in RD. [18:34] Story of development of English long TRC, from mid 1980s, including use of samples collected by Cambridge and Liverpool, UK, SERC [Science and Engineering Research Council] funding for research assistant Dave Brown, collection of samples from East Anglia, Lancashire. [21:38] Story of discovery of site Croston Moss [CM] through contact with school teacher; results of sampling of bog oak from CM. Comments on cross dating with Irish TRC; completion of English TRC (381 BC – 5000 BC); reasons for tendency of European TRC to extend backwards in time no further than 7500 years. [26:11] Comments on extent/nature of interest of own children in dendrochronology; separation of work and home life; attractiveness of oak burrs; own view of correct balance of sampling and preservation of archaeological timbers. [32:21] Comments on publication [‘Nature’, 1984] by Val LaMarche [VLM] and Kathy Hirschboeck [KH] on relations between frost rings in Californian bristlecone pines and volcanic eruptions; controversial linking of 1627 BC frost ring with eruption of Thera. Story of decision to investigate Irish TRC data/samples for evidence of narrow rings at dates identified by VLM/KH. Mentions Sentry Hill sample; delay in publishing own ‘Note’ to ‘Nature’. [36:25] Story of origins of employment as Visiting Professor, Laboratory of Tree Ring Research [LTRR], University of Arizona [UOA], Tuscon, US, 1986; own compilation of narrowest bog oak rings in Irish TRC data by decade, while at LTRR, including identification of multiple occurrences of narrowest rings in certain decades/dates; discussion with dendrochronologist Peter Kuniholm. [41:48] Story of reproduction of compilation of narrowest ring data using computer program developed by research assistant Martin Munro [MM]. Mentions related publication in ‘Nature’ with MM, 1988 [‘Irish Tree-rings, Santorini and Volcanic Dust-veils’], supporting VLM and KH’s association of eruption of Thera and reduced tree growth. Comments on own attempts to investigate/explain these narrow ring events since the late 1980s. [46:42] Description of process of extracting data on narrowest rings from microfiche in office, LTRR, 1986. Story of returning to wood store, QUB, to view narrowest ring samples, including identification of ‘small early vessels’ [SEVs] in narrowest rings. Comments on range of possible causes of SEVs; difficulty in using human accounts to explore causes of narrow ring events/SEVs. [54:26] Comments on the ‘540 [AD] event’, in context of generally accepted global environmental downturn between 536 and 550. Mentions ice core evidence for volcanic eruptions; possibility of comet impact at 540 AD. [57:56] Comments differences between DA, QUB and LTRR, Tuscon; tense rivalry between VLM and Wes Furguson [WF] at LTRR. [1:03:00] Description of practice of dendrochronology in US, involving ‘skeleton plotting’. [1:06:09] Comments on differences between Irish oak and US bristlecone pine; lack of certainty/continuing speculation about causes of narrow rings in Irish oak trees, including effects of flooding and associated ‘bark burst’.
Interview with Dendrochronologist, Mike Baillie