Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs)

Millennia Research staff have many years’ combined expertise in identifying and analysing Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs).

So, what is a CMT?


Culturally Modified Tree

First Nations people on the Northwest Coast of North America used the cedar tree above all other trees for an amazing variety of products. An intriguing book just on cedar has been written (Hilary Stewart, 1984 “Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians”, Douglas & McIntyre, many publications and still available). The pliable inner bark could be pounded into fluff to make material for baby diapers, and less refined bark was made into clothing, blankets, and baskets.

The harvesting of bark from cedar trees has left many thousands of scarred trees in the temperate rain forests. Archaeologists are now studying these trees, often called Culturally Modified Trees or CMTs. There are many other types of CMTs as well as bark-stripped cedars. These result from indigenous logging as well as bark-stripping other species for food. The way trees heal, which is quite different from the way animals heal wounds, results in characteristic scars which can be dated to the exact year the scar was made.

Culturally Modified Trees (CMT)

Culturally Modified Tree

Cedar can continue to grow in one part of the tree while another part rots. This results in very complex scars, particularly when the tree is stripped on more than one occasion, sometimes many years apart.

The following series of illustrations show the “evolution” of a bark-stripped CMT, from first strip to the present day appearance of an actual sample from a CMT that was cut down. The cross-section of the tree is shown, which is what the end of a sawn log or the top of a stump would look like. Of course, the archaeologist has only the last one, the sample, from which to reconstruct what happened to the tree over a few hundred years. As you can see, this is not so easy!