Adverse implications of misdating in dendrochronology: Addressing the re-dating of the "Messiah" violin

Henri D. Grissino-Mayer, Paul R. Sheppard, Malcolm K. Cleaveland, Paolo Cherubini, Peter Ratcliff, John Topham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations

Abstract

A recent report by Mondino and Avalle (2009) was widely distributed that demonstrated a re-dating of the famous "Messiah" violin, a violin attributed to Antonio Stradivari with a label date of 1716. An outermost ring date of 1844 is instead suggested rather than dates in the 1680s reported in previous studies. Mondino and Avalle suggest that this outermost ring date supports the attribution of the violin to Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume, a prolific French instrument maker who was well known for his copies of famous instruments. The statistical techniques and exercises used by Mondino and Avalle, however, are problematic and do not support this revised outermost date for the "Messiah" violin. Raw measurement data with original trends are used in their statistical crossdating, properties previously shown to hinder precise crossdating. They then substantiate their re-dating with polynomial trend curves, which has ever been accepted practice in dendrochronology. Furthermore, the authors use re-scaled correlation coefficients and t-values which artificially inflate the strength of the relationship between tree-ring series that are being statistically crossdated. Using the exact same tree-ring data, but using accepted techniques in statistical crossdating (e.g., the removal of all low-frequency trends and autocorrelation), we could not verify the revised dating of the "Messiah" violin. We urge caution for those who intend to use the SynchroSearch software, book, and lesson plans developed and distributed by Mondino and Avalle. This study illustrates the adverse effects possible in dendrochronology when investigators do not adhere to accepted and time-tested techniques, and are not versed in the extensive literature that highlights issues commonly encountered in statistical crossdating.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-159
Number of pages11
JournalDendrochronologia
Volume28
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2010

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Keywords

  • "Messiah" violin
  • Antonio Stradivari
  • Dendrochronology
  • Musical instruments
  • Tree rings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Plant Science

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