Fossil Forests

The image shows the center of a polished slice of a petrified tree from the late Triassic period (approximately 230 million years ago) found in Arizona. The remains of insects can be detected in an enlarged image.

Petrified wood (from the Greek root petro meaning "rock" or "stone"; literally "wood turned into stone") is the name given to a special type of fossilized remains of terrestrial vegetation. It is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the stem tissue. Unlike other types of fossils which are typically impressions or compressions, petrified wood is a three-dimensional representation of the original organic material. The petrifaction process occurs underground, when wood becomes buried under sediment and is initially preserved due to a lack of oxygen which inhibits aerobic decomposition. Mineral-laden water flowing through the sediment deposits minerals in the plant's cells; as the plant's lignin and cellulose decay, a stone mould forms in its place. The organic matter needs to become petrified before it decomposes completely. A forest where such material has petrified becomes known as a petrified forest. Read more ...

The Fossil Forest is the remains of an ancient forest from Jurassic times, located to the east of Lulworth Cove on the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset, England. It lies on the Jurassic Coast, on a wide ledge in the seaside cliff. The site is within the Lulworth Ranges and thus has restricted access. Parts of forest can also be seen on the Isle of Portland and in quarries near the town of Weymouth to the west. Read more ...

In the News ...

Oldest pine fossils reveal fiery past   Science Daily - March 10, 2016
The oldest fossils of the familiar pine tree that dominates Northern Hemisphere forests today has been found by researchers. The 140-million-year-old fossils (dating from the Cretaceous 'Age of the Dinosaurs') are exquisitely preserved as charcoal, the result of burning in wildfires. Scientists have found the oldest fossils of the familiar pine tree that dominates Northern Hemisphere forests today. Scientists from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, University of London have found the oldest fossils of the familiar pine tree that dominates Northern Hemisphere forests today. The 140-million-year-old fossils (dating from the Cretaceous 'Age of the Dinosaurs') are exquisitely preserved as charcoal, the result of burning in wildfires. The fossils suggest that pines co-evolved with fire at a time when oxygen levels in the atmosphere were much higher and forests were especially flammable.

Fossils of Dinosaur-Era Forest Fire Discovered in Canada   Live Science - June 6, 2014
In the badlands of southern Saskatchewan, Canada, scientists discovered evidence of a 66-million-year-old forest fire locked in stone. Fossilized plants found on top of the layers of ancient charcoal show that forests bounced back from wildfires during the last days of the dinosaurs much like they do today, the new study found. Dry, treeless grasslands cover much of southern Saskatchewan today, but 66 million years ago, the region was covered in swampy, lowland forests. It was perhaps six times rainier and 18-26 degrees Fahrenheit (10-12 degrees Celsius) warmer than it is today, the researchers said. The area may have resembled North America's Pacific Coast, with forest canopies dominated by towering sequoias and a diversity of smaller plants growing closer to the ground.

180 million-year-old fossilized fern nearly identical to modern relative   PhysOrg - March 21, 2014
A trio of researchers in Sweden has unearthed a fossilized fern that has been dated to 180 million years ago, that remarkably, is in near pristine condition. The calcified stem of a royal fern dating back to the early Jurassic period was apparently preserved by mineral precipitation from hydrothermal brines as they rapidly crystalized, trapping the fern, which was clearly alive at the time, encasing it in an airtight environment. Although very small (just 5.8 x 4.1 cm) the fossil was so well preserved that the researchers were still able to make out cell cytoplasm, nuclei and even chromosomes.

Iconic Australasian trees found as fossils in South America   PhysOrg - January 9, 2014
Today in Australia they call it Kauri, in Asia they call it Dammar, and in South America it does not exist at all unless planted there; but 52 million years ago the giant coniferous evergreen tree known to botanists as Agathis thrived in the Patagonian region of Argentina, according to an international team of paleobotanists, who have found numerous fossilized remains there. These spectacular fossils reveal that Agathis is old and had a huge range that no one knew about from Australia to South America across Antarctica.

Giant Vines & Towering Trees: Ancient Forest Unearthed   Live Science - February 29, 2012
One of the earliest forests in the world was home to towering palmlike trees and woody plants that crept along the ground like vines, a new fossil find reveals. The forest, which stood in what is now Gilboa, N.Y., was first unearthed in a quarry in the 1920s. But now, a new construction project has revealed for the first time the forest floor as it stood 380 million years ago in the Devonian period.

Team reveals oldest fossilized forest   PhysOrg - February 29, 2012
An international team, including a Cardiff University researcher, who previously found evidence of the Earth's earliest tree, has gone one step further. The research team has now unearthed and investigated an entire fossil forest dating back 385 million years.

Mummified Forest Found on Treeless Arctic Island   National Geographic - December 21, 2010
> Pines, spruces buried in landslide millions of years ago, when area was warmer. An ancient mummified forest, complete with well-preserved logs, leaves, and seedpods, has been discovered deep in the Canadian Arctic, scientists say. The dry, frigid site is now surrounded by glaciers and is completely treeless, except for a few bonsai-size dwarf trees.

Tree "Mummies" Found, Traced Back to Viking Era   National Geographic - October 28, 2009
"Mummified" trees that lived around Viking times have been discovered near a fjord in southwestern Norway, scientists say. Dated to the early 1200s, the 40 dead Scotch pines were found scattered among living trees in what was once a dense forest that supplied wood for medieval boats and churches. The trees appear to have died from natural causes after living out their several-hundred-year life spans. But somehow the dead trees "survived" - they apparently have never rotted. The mummified trees are different from petrified wood, a kind of fossil created when wood is replaced with minerals over thousands of years.

Giant Underground Fossil Forests Show Record of Warming National Geographic - September 9, 2008
Huge tracts of prehistoric rain forest ravaged by global warming more than 300 million years ago have been found preserved underneath the U.S. Midwest, according to scientists. The fossilized forests, including one covering 39 square miles (100 square kilometers), were discovered in coal mines in eastern Illinois by a team of international researchers. The finds represent the earliest rain forests to appear on Earth and date back to eras just before and after intense global warming.

Rare Fossil Trees Found in Hungary   National Geographic - July 31, 2007
It may look like a haunted forest - but this rare cluster of fossilized trees is luring scientists in, not scaring them away. The eight-million-year-old swamp cypress forest was found recently near the village of Bukkabrany in northeastern Hungary, officials announced today (map of Hungary). Miners uncovered the unusual find while digging for lignite, or brown coal. The remains of the 16 uncovered trees - which range from about 13 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) tall and 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) around - are an oddity because they did not petrify, or turn to stone, as preserved trees usually do.

Instead, the trees retain their original wood, giving scientists vital clues to the puzzling geology and climate of ancient central Europe. At that time, the Pannonian Lake that submerged much of present-day Hungary and its neighbors had begun to retreat. Meanwhile global sea levels had begun to fall, which eventually caused all or some of the Mediterranean Sea to dry up. "The importance of the findings is that so many trees got preserved in their original position in one place," Alfred Dulai, a geologist at the Hungarian Natural History Museum, told the Reuters news service.

Giant Fossil Rain Forest Discovered in Illinois National Geographic - April 25, 2007
A giant fossilized rain forest has been unearthed in an Illinois coal mine. Preserved by a major ancient earthquake, the forest covers four square miles (a thousand hectares) and features an abundance of huge leaf impressions, large trunks of extinct trees, and tree-size horsetail plants, the researchers said. The fossils reveal a 300-million-year-old forest that bears little resemblance to most wooded areas today. Trees in the ancient forest sported few branches and were veiled with only scattered leaves, allowing plenty of sunlight to filter down from the forest canopy. A major earthquake 300 million years ago caused the forest to drop below sea level, burying the entire ecosystem in mud almost immediately, Elrick explained. This rapid burial kept the forest's plant life from decomposing and allowed it to be preserved. Geologist John Nelson, also with ISGS, found the fossils in 2004 when he was visiting the mine and noticed plant imprints in its shale-covered ceiling.