"Botanical Pompeii" discovered in Illinois mine





In the clammy depths of a southern Illinois coal mine lies the largest fossil forest ever discovered, at least 50 times as extensive as the previous contender.

Scientists are exploring dripping passages by the light of headlamps, mapping out an ecosystem from 307 million years ago, just before the world’s first great forests were wiped out by global warming. This vast prehistoric landscape may shed new light on climate change today.

Dating from the Pennsylvanian period of the Carboniferous era, the forest lies entombed in a series of eight active mines. They burrow through the rich seams of the Springfield Coal, a nationally important energy resource that underlies much of Illinois and two neighboring states and has been heavily mined for decades....

“It’s a botanical Pompeii, buried in a geological instant,” said William A. DiMichele, a paleobiologist and curator of fossil plants at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington and one of the forest’s discoverers. He believes it was gently entombed by floods that successively washed through a swamp....




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