Roughly 50,000 years ago, a series of horrible storms wracked northern New Zealand, burying stands of ancient Kauri trees in peat and mud -- where they waited, for many, many millennia, to be rediscovered. As conference tables, apparently.
The rediscovery of the trees was a paleontological breakthrough, and it's now helping climate scientists study how the Earth has changed over the millennia. At the same time, this "swamp Kauri" is being harvested at break-neck speeds for use in staircases and furniture -- for example, $700,000 of the stuff was used to build the canopy of the Aukland Art Gallery:
In fact, The New Zealand Herald calls it a "black gold rush", with crews excavating swamp logs from below many feet of boggy land using huge backhoes and other equipment.
Picture: NZ Forests
Swamp Kauri wood is now all the rage in New Zealand -- and in Europe, China and the US. Enter Holzano, a Polish design studio that makes tabletops with the stuff. Each slab, weighing upwards of 90kg, is dried for two or three years before being sanded down and treated with Tung tree oil. They're fitted with steel legs and sold for roughly $8000 -- a small price to pay for owning a piece of the world's oldest wood, I guess.
A closer look at the swamp kauri industry reveals some less than savory details, on the other hand. In theory, swamp logs can't be exported from New Zealand legally. But the stumps or root pieces can be -- and despite the law, log pieces appear outside of their country of origin regularly. Despite the fact that scientists want swamp kauri to be preserved, New Zealand's Ministry of Forestry director says that exports are a "grey area" and are approved on a "case-by-case basis".
So, yes, if you have $8000, you can eat your dinner off a piece of wood that existed during the later Stone Age. As long as you don't mind being party to some shady-sounding export practices. [Holzano]