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Gary L. Patterson
Department of Biology
Utah State University--Tooele
Rings as Keys to the Past: A Case of Dendroarchaeology

This flipped case study was written to provide foundational understanding of woody stem (tree) anatomy and to illustrate how scientific support is used to determine the age of objects made of wood, which in turn may affect an object's value. The narrative was inspired by a 2004 article by Henri Grissino-Mayer et al. that deals with questions concerning the authenticity of the so-called "Messiah" violin, a reputed Stradivarius, based on stylistic and historical grounds as well as conflicting sets of tree-ring dates. The case provides general biology, botany, and perhaps forestry instructors a chance to show relevancy for learning basic tree anatomy and the process of growth in plants that produce woody stems. Additionally, a primary focus of the case is to give students the chance to experience the preliminary steps of a process used by dendrochronologists to determine the age of wooden objects. The case was developed for general non-majors biology courses taught in high school, college/university, or for informal science education settings with adult learners.