More giants found in oldest fossil forest, claim scientists in reports in ScienceShots and ScienceDaily 29 February 2012 and Nature, vol. 483, p78, 1 March 2012, DOI: 10.1038/nature10819. In the 1920s a large number of fossil tree stumps were found in a quarry near Gilboa in New York. This was claimed to be the remains of a fossil forest dated as 385 million years old. The stumps were from an extinct tree named Eospermatopteris or simply called “Gilboa Trees”. These are now known to be trees that grew up to about 10 meters (33ft) in height and looked something like a palm tree or a tree fern. The quarry was later filled in, but in 2010 it was excavated again and scientists were able to search for fossils and map the site.

Along with the Eospermatopteris bases they found two other plant fossils. One was a giant club moss with an 11cm (4.3in) diameter trunk and a height of at least 3.9 metres (12.8ft). The scientists were surprised to find “many woody horizontally-lying stems, up to about 15cm thick, which they have demonstrated to be the ground-running trunks of another type of plant (aneurophytalean progymnosperm), only previously known from its upright branches”. Chris Berry, Cardiff School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, one of the researchers, stated: “All this demonstrates that the ‘oldest forest’ at Gilboa was a lot more ecologically complex than we had suspected, and probably contained a lot more carbon locked up as wood than we previously knew about”. He went on to say: “Seven years ago colleagues Linda and Frank found us a fossil of a complete Gilboa tree. That was amazing. But this time we’ve got the whole forest!”


Editorial Comment: Today’s club mosses are weedy pencil thin plants with a maximum height around half a metre (18in) that were used in Christmas wreaths, until they became rare and their spores were found to be flammable. When their stems were 11cm across and 3.9m long you would not have twisted them into cute wreaths that sat in your window.

This fossil site is a reminder the earth was once clearly a better place for plants to grow, and was full of enormous plants that have either died out or dwarfed significantly. Genesis tells us in the beginning the earth was watered each day by a rising mist (Genesis 2:5-6). This would have provided ideal conditions for plants. The abundance of woody material found here and elsewhere also indicates the atmosphere had more carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Whilst Gilboa is a spectacular fossil deposit, we wait for more detail before calling it a forest, since the tree bases overlap, and the horizontally lying trunks are directional. If the vertical trees did grow there then the horizontal logs indicate it has been buried by flood conditions very rapidly so that many logs have taken the direction of the current. If the vertical logs can be shown to have also been dumped then it is far more likely this is a total flood dump deposit, where the trees grew elsewhere and a massive flood ripped up one forest, then transported and dumped the lot. (Ref. wood, botany, fossilisation)

Evidence News 14 March 2012