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Random pursuits during long, sleepless nights. There's an old song entitled "Green Door" whose lyrics go "Midnight, one more night without sleeping, watching till the morning comes creeping...". Over the years that opening phrase has become my late night theme song. Bored and restless, tired of all the time-fillers I create, I turn to the green door of my mind exploring memories, ideas, the pros and cons of beliefs, puzzling over the inexplicable facets of life as we know it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Oldest Tree; Oldest Man


The Oldest Tree In The World: 9,950 Years Put In Perspective

Thu, Apr 17, 2008

The trunk of the above tree is less than 600 years old—but its roots date back to 9,550 years ago, making it the world's oldest known living tree, scientists say.

This tree is apparently 9,550 years old; well, more appropriately, not the tree itself, but the root system, which has obviously supported several different incarnations of this tree.

However, since our average lifespan is far south of 100 years, we can’t really gain an appropriate perspective on how old this rather well-worn Norway Spruce actually is. The following statistics may help. At 9,950 years old, this tree was:

  • “Born” at the end of the last ice age.
  • 4,450 years old when the Bristlecone Pines in California had that new-car smell. The Bristlecones were previously accepted to be the oldest living things.
  • 4,972 years old when the Great Pyramid at Giza was completed, 2500 B.C./B.C.E.
  • 6,585 years old when the first temple (Solomon’s) of Israel was completed in 957 B.C.E.
  • 6,789 years old when the Roman Empire was founded in 753 B.C./B.C.E.
  • 8,018 years old when Rome was sacked in 476 A.D./C.E.
  • 9,035 years old when Columbus set out on his (everybody thought) doomed voyage of 1492
  • 9,347 years old when Nelson was making a name for himself at Trafalgar in 1805, and
  • 9,487 years old when the first atomic bombs were detonated in 1945

To be perfectly clear, this tree is older than recorded human history, which only reaches as far back as 2800 B.C.E. The oldest person on the planet–124-year old Zabani Khakimova of Chechnya– has been in existence for 1.29 percent of this tree’s lifespan. Yikes.



Bodyshock: The Amazing Story behind the 256 Year-Old Man

Sat, May 3, 2008

Offbeat News

By Chris Ingham Brooke - Chief Graffiti Artist

Li Ching-Yun. Image from The People’s Republic of China

According to the 1933 obituaries in both Time Magazine and the New York Times, Li Ching-Yun was reported to have buried 23 wives and fostered 180 descendants by the time he died at the age of 256.

Was he really that old? Could he have forgotten his own birthday or exaggerated his claim? Environmental Graffiti investigates.

The Secrets to an Interminable Life

“Keep a quiet heart, sit like a tortoise, walk sprightly like a pigeon and sleep like a dog.” These were the words of advice Li gave to Wu Pei-fu, the warlord, who took Li into his house to learn the secret of extremely long life.

Li maintained that inward calm and peace of mind were the secrets to incredible longevity. His diet after all, was mainly based on rice and wine.

From 0 to 256

Unsurprisingly, not much is known about Li Ching-Yun’s early life. We know he was born in the province of Szechwan in China, where he also died. We also know that by his tenth birthday, Ching-Yun was literate and had travelled to Kansu, Shansi, Tibet, Annam, Siam and Manchuria gathering herbs. After that, it gets a bit fuzzy…

Apparently, for over one hundred years, Li continued selling his own herbs and then subsequently sold herbs collected by others. He also (according to Time) had six-inch long fingernails on his right hand.

You might be thinking that he looked decrepit, shrivelled, leather-like and creepy, however sources at the time were astonished at his youthfulness. Was this suspect? Was Li Ching-Yun as old as he claimed he was, or was his birthday a clerical error or exaggeration?

Let’s take a brief look at both sides…

The Nine Lives of Li Ching-Yun

By his own admission he was born in 1736 and had lived 197 years. However, in 1930 a professor and dean at Minkuo University by the name of Wu Chung-chien, found records “proving” that Li was born in 1677. Records allegedly showed that the Imperial Chinese Government congratulated him on his 150th and 200th Birthdays.

So the question is, had he forgotten his own birthday? Was this even the same Li Ching-Yun?

Looking at all of this from a medical and documented perspective: Jeanne Louise Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 so far holds the title for the person who has roamed the earth the longest: 122 years, which is a phenomenal length of time.

That means, that if the records discovered by Wu Chung-chien were accurate, Li Ching-Yun’s age would surpass the official record by more than 130 years. Is this even medically possible?

The detail, which seems to prove both arguments and debunk them at the same time, is Li’s youthful appearance, noted in a 1928 article from the New York Times. Visually and physically, he appeared to look like a typical 60 year-old. Does this therefore signify a superhuman body capable of lasting one quarter of a millennium, or is the story of Li Ching-Yun based on a series of half-truths, lies or exaggerations?

Unfortunately, we may never know. You may draw your own logical conclusions.

Sources: 1, 2, 3,



Patriarchal Chronology, Longevity, and Numeracy

Here is the kind of thing you ponder when you’re a biblical chronology geek:

Esau married his Hittite wives when he was 40 years old (Gen 26:34). Since he and Jacob were twins, Jacob would have been 40 years old as well.

It didn’t sit well with Rebekah that Esau had married outside the clan. You get the impression she was dead-set against it from the start. So, apparently shortly thereafter, she sent Jacob off to Mesopotamia to find a wife from among his extended family there (Gen 27:46; 28:2). How long was this after Esau’s marriages? The Bible doesn’t say, but what impression do you get from reading the text? For the sake of argument, let’s say three years passed in which this big, unhappy, dysfunctional family stayed together. Jacob is now 43.

In Mesopotamia, Jacob worked a sum total of twenty years for his uncle, Laban (Gen 31:38). He married Leah and Rachel after seven years (Gen 29:20), when he was 50. He, his wives and concubines, and his many children went back to Canaan shortly after the birth of Joseph (Gen 30:25). So Joseph was born when Jacob was 63 years old.

When Joseph was 17, his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt (Gen 37:2). Jacob was 80.

When Joseph was 30 years old, he he entered Pharaoh’s service (Gen 41:46). Jacob was 93.

There were seven years of bountiful harvest in Egypt (Gen 41:53), then the years of famine began. When the famine had been in the land for two years (Gen 45:6), Joseph sent for his family to immigrate to Egypt. This would have been in the ninth year of Joseph’s tenure. Jacob would have been 101.

Finally, Jacob appears before Pharaoh (Gen 47:7). Pharaoh asks Jacob how old he is, and Jacob replies:

“The years of my earthly sojourn are one hundred thirty; few and hard have been the days of my life. (Gen 47:9)

How are we to account for the 29-year discrepancy? The easiest way may be to revisit the duration of the interval between Esau getting married and Jacob leaving for Mesopotamia. If my guesstimate of three years is off—by a factor of 11 or 12!—the chronology once again slips into place. But is this realistic? Would Jacob really have procrastinated another 35 years before trying to find a wife? Would he be living at home at age 75 with his supercentenarian parents? Would Isaac have sent his 75-year old son Esau out hunting for game rather than one of the great-grandkids? Of course, if Jacob were really 82 years old on his wedding night, that may well explain why he didn’t realize that it was Leah, not Rachel, in his bed (Gen 29:24-25)!

Another option is that Jacob’s age is being intentionally exaggerated, either by the narrator or by Jacob himself. There are, in fact, certain regions of the world that boast of amazing longevity, especially the Caucasus (see also here), Okinawa, the Xinjiang region of China, the Vilcabamba region of Ecuador (see also here), and the Hunza region of Pakistan. By far, the most astounding claim of the twentieth century involved China’s Li Chung-yun, born—it is claimed—in 1677 and dying May 5, 1933 at the ripe old age of 256! In comparison, Shirali Muslimov of Azerbaijan was practically a child when he died September 4, 1973, purportedly at 168 years of age.

In the twenty-first century, Zabani Khakimova of Chechnya died in 2003, purportedly at the age of 124. If confirmed, Mrs. Khakimova would beat the oldest documented supercentenarian, Jeanne Calment of France (d. 4 Aug 1997), by two years.

Most of these claims have been contested, however, by further research (see also here and here). Further, more rigorous investigation has generally found widespread age exaggeration, although some regions do credibly report a higher than expected number of people living past 100.

A number of factors contribute to the modern phenomenon of age exaggeration, including:

  • The profound respect for the elderly exhibited among the cultures where all of these reports originate, including the prestige that comes with being the oldest person in a village or tribe.
  • The general tendency noted among many elderly to inflate their ages.
  • The desire to avoid military service while young by assuming the identity of a deceased elder. Similarly, some of the originally reported Vilcabamban centenarians were found to have adopted the baptismal records and other documentation of older siblings or parents. The practice of “recycling” the names of deceased older relatives, called “necronomy,” is known to many cultures.
  • In the former USSR, amazing longevity was sometimes touted as proof of the superiority of the communist system. Furthermore, Josef Stalin (an ethnic Georgian) manipulated claims for long-lived inhabitants of the Caucasus in the service of his own ambitions.
  • Finally, Wang et al. have observed that in China, ethnic minorities such as the Uygurs of Xinjiang were more likely to exaggerate their ages than the predominant Han population.

Some of these reasons find parallels with the patriarchal narratives of Genesis. The ancient Israelites, like all the cultures of the Ancient Near East, considered a long life to be humankind’s greatest blessing and demonstrated great reverence toward the elderly. As perennial outsiders, the sociological factors that lead to age inflation among the Uygurs and others may also have figured into the reporting of the ages of the patriarchs. Perhaps Jacob wished to command greater respect from Pharaoh by exaggerating his age. It would not have been the first time Jacob bent the truth for his own advantage!

Even so, the reporting of these year-counts may be entirely the product of oral storytelling. It is important to realize that ancient peoples, especially those outside the major urban centers, did not handle numbers like moderns do.

Numeracy developed in the world at about the same time (and in the same place: ancient Sumer) as literacy. For many centuries, numbers belonged strictly to the realm of business transactions. Outside that sphere, they functioned more like adjectives than precise enumerations. Thus, the number 7 came to signify totality or completeness. (You can count to five on the fingers of one hand, then push it an extra two by using your memory.) Anthropologists have noted even in recent times that most preliterate peoples simply have no use for numbers and counting, even when they are exposed to the concepts. Numbers may be suggestive of certain qualities, but for the most part are not used to indicate precise figures.

In this context, it is not surprising that round numbers, particularly where 10’s and 7’s figure prominently, are abundant in the Genesis narratives. Both Jacob and Esau, for example, married at age 40. Is this meant to be a literal number or does it simply mean something like “suitable maturity”? Likewise, Jacob worked 20 years for Laban and Sarai waited 10 years before offering Hagar to Abram. All of these could be round figures rather than strict chronological data.

Let me quickly point out that none of this is meant to cast doubt on the basic historicity of the patriarchs! I’m simply trying to understand the stories told about them in the appropriate cultural and sociological terms. For the book of Genesis, those terms involve a way of using numbers that is quite different from what we would expect in our scientific age.

The first character to appear in the Bible who could actually read was probably Nimrod, if he is to be equated with the eerily similar Sumerian king Enmerkar, whom legend had it was the first king to write a message on clay. This was about the beginning of the Uruk IV period, when writing was just being invented.

The first Bible character who used numbers as something other than adjectives describing qualities rather than quantities may well have been Eliezer, Abraham’s steward (Gen 15:2). Leaders in pre-numerate societies would have had such an “expert” in their employ to handle the accounting. Perhaps it was Eliezer who kept track of the 318 fighting men at Abram’s command (Gen 14:14). I doubt that Abraham or Isaac could either read or handle numbers, although perhaps Jacob could do both at a rudimentary level. Only with Moses, with his first-rate Egyptian education, do literate and numerate characters take center stage in the Bible. Even after that, however, it is likely that most ancient Israelites used numbers more for their symbolism than for anything else.

technorati tags: chronology, genesis, longevity, numeracy, patriarchs



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