Henry Michael

1914 - 2006

Henry N. Michael died February 19, 2006 at age ninety-two. Michael was widely known for his study of ancient pine tree growth rings which helped resolve problems of radiocarbon dating. He was Chair of the Temple University Geography Department from 1965 to 1973.

Henry Michael was born in Pittsburgh and earned his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. He was named an assistant professor at Temple University in 1959, around the same time he began his tree-ring studies. Dr. Michael studied the tree rings of ancient bristlecone pine trees in the White Mountains of California. He drilled samples from bristlecone pine trees, which can live 4,500 years or more, and with colleagues Elizabeth Ralph of the University of Pennsylvania and C. Wesley Ferguson of the University of Arizona, subjected rings of known age to radiocarbon testing. The research, partly conducted at the University of California, San Diego, expanded the known record for radiocarbon testing by thousands of years, to create a reliable chronology for scientists. In the 1970’s and 80’s, Dr. Michael continued to hunt for even older samples of buried bristlecones and managed to match signature patterns from dead trees to living samples, eventually pushing back the limit of the radiocarbon record to 7,400 B.C. He successfully applied the dating method to timbers from Greece and to the cedars of Lebanon, and handed over his data to the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona in the 1990’s.

While a professor of geography at Temple University, Dr. Michael studied Siberia and the cultures of the Eskimos and other Arctic people, and translated works from their Russian sources. He translated the legends of the Yupik Eskimos of Siberia and from 1959 to 1974, helped edit a series of books Anthropology of the North, published by the University of Toronto Press. During the cold war, Michael maintained ties with Russian anthropologists and translated and helped publish their articles. He also edited an account of an early exploration of Alaska and the Yukon, “Lieutenant Zagoskin’s Travels in Russian America, 1842-1844.”

Dr. Henry Michael was chairman of Temple’s geography department from 1965 to 1973, and retired there in 1980. He was also a founder of the Delaware Valley Geographical Association (DVGA) and for decades the host of its twice-yearly council meetings, providing geographers from a dozen local, non-PhD institutions, a professional network.  In 19xx the DVGA presented Dr. Michael with its lifetime achievement award, and he continued an active role in that organization until very recently. And up until 2005 he continued his studies at Penn, working at its Museum Applied Science Center for Archaeology, where he was a senior fellow.


Henry Michael (Necrology). 2006. AAG Newsletter 41(5): 12.