Ancient trees found in mines

Tree (University of Bristol)Spectacular fossil forests have been found in the coal mines of Illinois by a US-UK team of researchers.The group reported one discovery last year, but has since identified a further five examples.The ancient vegetation – now turned to rock – is visible in the ceilings of mines covering thousands of hectares.These were among the first forests to evolve on the planet.

The forests grew just a few million years apart some 300 million years ago; and are now stacked one on top of another. It appears the ancient land experienced repeated periods of subsidence and flooding which buried the forests in a vertical sequence.Once the coal seams have been removed (what were, essentially, the compacted soils of the forests), it is possible to go into the tunnels and look up at what would have been lying on the forest floors.

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