Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

121,056 subscribers and counting ...

By in
| Earth on Mar 02, 2012

World’s oldest fossilized forest revealed

A research team has unearthed an entire fossil forest dating back 385 million years, the Gilboa fossil forest, in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains.

An international research team has unearthed and investigated an entire fossil forest dating back 385 million years. The Gilboa fossil forest, in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, is generally referred to as ‘the oldest fossil forest’. The researchers’ findings are published in the journal Nature on March 1, 2012.

Dr. Chris Berry studies the stump of a Gilboa tree.. Image Credit: Cardiff University

In the 1920s during excavation of a quarry to extract rock to build the nearby Gilboa Dam, fossils of hundreds of large tree stumps (the ‘Gilboa tree’) preserved in the rocks were discovered and examined briefly. The quarry was backfilled when the dam was completed. Until now, the only way the Gilboa fossil forest could be investigated was from museum specimens and from small exposures of other levels in nearby streams.

In May 2010, the quarry was partially emptied as part of a dam maintenance project. Researchers who were were monitoring the site spotted that the original quarry floor had been exposed, and that the roots and positions of the trunk bases had been preserved.

Gilboa tree fossil. Image credit: Frank Mannolini. New York State Museum

Dr Chris Berry, Cardiff School of Earth and Ocean Sciences said in a press release:

For the first time we were able to arrange for about 1,300 square meters to be cleaned off for investigation. A map of the position of all the plant fossils preserved on that surface was made.

In the Nature study, the researchers describe bases of the ‘Gilboa trees’ as spectacular bowl-shaped depressions up to nearly two meters in diameter, surrounded by thousands of roots. These are known to be the bases of trees up to about 10 meters in height, that looked something like a palm tree or a tree fern. One of the biggest surprises was that the researchers found many woody horizontally-lying stems, up to about 15 cm think, which they have demonstrated to be the ground-running trunks of another type of plant, only previously known from its upright branches. They also found one large example of a tree-shaped club moss, the type of tree that commonly forms coal seams in younger rocks across Europe and North America.

Dr. Chris Berry at the quarry.Image Credit: Cardiff University

Bottom line: An international research team has unearthed and investigated an entire fossil forest dating back 385 million years. The Gilboa fossil forest, in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York, is generally referred to as ‘the oldest fossil forest’. The researchers’ findings are published in the journal Nature on March 1, 2012.

Via EurekAlert, AlphaGalideo and Cardiff University