Monday, August 13, 2007

The Eight Million Year Old Forest

A remarkably well preserved forest, some eight million years old, has been discovered in an open cut mining pit in Hungary.

As this story explains, the eight million year old forest is incredibly rare, as many of the most ancient trees ever discovered have not become petrified over thousands of millennia, or turned into coal :
"The discovery is exceptional as the trees kept their wooden structure..." Tamas Pusztai, the deputy director and head of the archaeological department at the local Otto Herman museum, who oversaw the excavation, said.

Archaeologists announced the find last week after uncovering the mysterious forest of taxodiums, a kind of swamp cypress, after a few days of digging.

Miners working in a brown coal mine had first uncovered several tree trunks that had been turned into coal, a common occurrence in this kind of environment.

"But further down, we found 16 trees that had remained where they had grown some 8 million years ago and that are very well preserved," Pusztai said.

"The trunks were preserved in their original form and material," said Miklos Kazmer, the director of the paleontology department at the Loran Eotvos Natural Science University in Budapest. During the Miocene period, which began over 10 million years ago, the region was covered by a giant lake with muddy and marshy shores, Lake Pannon, he added.

"The exceptional state of preservation of the trees is due to a sudden sandstorm which covered the forest [with sand] up to a height of six meters," Kazmer said.

"All that was above perished but "the part that was buried under the sand remained beautifully intact," he added.

As a result, strict security measures have been put in place: access to the mine has been limited to journalists and archaeologists, and forbidden to locals from nearby villages, intrigued by images shown on Hungarian television of the "lunar landscape" in their backyard.

Veres said the taxodiums were drying up before his eyes as the trunks "have lost their cellulose, which worked as a glue for the trees' cell membranes."

Since the trunks are made of organic material, it is possible to conduct dendrochronology tests, which study tree rings to determine climatic changes during a tree's life, a visibly enthusiastic Veres said.

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