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A University of Pennsylvania paleontologist and a team of Chinese researchers recently stumbled upon an amazing discovery in Northern China - A perfectly fossilized forest that dates all the way back to the Permian Period, when the Earth's plates were still moving towards each other to form the super continent, Pangea. During this time, North America and Europe were one continent, while China existed as two separate continents. Since they overlapped the equator, all enjoyed tropical weather.
The trees and bushes estimated to be about 300 million years old were discovered near the Wuda coal mines in Inner Mongolia, where they have lain, perfectly preserved by a layer of ash, that the researchers believe may have at one time been, as thick as, 39 inches.
According to the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology Researcher, Jun Wang, the ash fall buried and killed the plants, toppled the trees and then left them all in the same place undisturbed, for millions of years. As a result, the team was able to find fossilized branches of trees complete with leaves attached right next to each other and even, close to their own tree stumps.
The scientists examined data from three different sites spanning about 10,764 square feet and discovered that each had different trees - Some were dominant in one area, but entirely missing from the others. All in all, they were able to identify six groups of trees. Among them were the 80 ft tall Sigillaria and Cordaites that formed the forest canopy. Also discovered, were some almost complete specimens of the now extinct Noeggerathiales - A spore-bearing tree, related to the fern.
The new find is being compared to the discovery of the ancient Italian city of Pompeii which also was preserved by volcanic ash. It will give scientists a chance to examine an ecosystem that doesn't exist anymore, providing them with an in-depth look at ancient plant communities and even, a glimpse into the life in that area, prior to the creation of the super continent, Pangea.
Pangea is the name coined for the giant landmass that existed about 250 million years ago, before the earth's plate tectonics shuffled around and split them all into the continents they currently are. Though Pangea, which lasted about 100 million years is the most well-known, scientists believe the earth plates had come together several times in its history to form super continents.
Resources: sci-news.com, zmesience.com, gizmondo.com