The Prometheus tree, a Great Basin bristlecone pine, which in 1964 was about 5000 years old – a period by the way that approximately equates to the recorded history of the world – could have lived to a much greater age had it have not been cut down by a geologist who was unaware of just how just how old the tree was.
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 Schoettle. “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.”