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Cross-dating was originally done by visual inspection; more recently, computers have been harnessed to do the task, applying statistical techniques to assess the matching.
Dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating) is the scientific method of dating tree rings (also called growth rings) to the exact year they were formed in order to analyze atmospheric conditions during different periods in history.
Diagram of secondary growth in a tree showing idealised vertical and horizontal sections.
A new layer of wood is added in each growing season, thickening the stem, existing branches and roots, to form a growth ring.
A tree-ring history whose beginning and end dates are not known is called a floating chronology.
It can be anchored by cross-matching a section against another chronology (tree-ring history) whose dates are known.
Critical to the science, trees from the same region tend to develop the same patterns of ring widths for a given period of historical study.
These patterns can be compared and matched ring for ring with trees growing at the same time in the same geographical zone (and therefore under similar climatic conditions).
New growth in trees occurs in a layer of cells near the bark.
A tree's growth rate changes in a predictable pattern throughout the year in response to seasonal climate changes, resulting in visible growth rings.
During the first half of the 20th century, the astronomer A. Douglass founded the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona.
Douglass sought to better understand cycles of sunspot activity and reasoned that changes in solar activity would affect climate patterns on earth, which would subsequently be recorded by tree-ring growth patterns (i.e., sunspots → climate → tree rings).
Growth rings, also referred to as tree rings or annual rings, can be seen in a horizontal cross section cut through the trunk of a tree.