In a deserted quarry near Cairo, New York, researchers have uncovered the planet’s most ancient forest preserved in rocks dating back 385 million years. These fossils reveal the petrified roots of numerous ancient trees, marking a significant milestone in Earth’s history. As these trees developed roots, they played a vital role in extracting carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, initiating a transformative impact on the planet’s climate and shaping the atmosphere we know today.
While the existence of this ancient forest was already known, it was only recently investigated to determine the ages of the plants and trees thriving there. The forest showcased traces of early plants, with some believed to have existed during the time of dinosaurs.
Researchers from the University of Binghamton in the US and the University of Cardiff in Wales estimate that this ancient forest once covered an expansive area of approximately 400 kilometers, equivalent to around 250 miles. The cartography of the region began half a decade ago in 2019.
Through the detailed examination of fossils from various plants and trees within the area, researchers have identified it as Earth’s oldest known forest, distinguishing it from other notable ancient forests such as the Amazon rainforest and Japan’s Yakushima Forest.
This groundbreaking discovery involves the field of palaeobotany, which combines “paleo,” meaning old or ancient, with “botany,” the study of plants. As described by Dr. Christopher Berry, a Paleobotanist at Cardiff University, exploring this site is like “walking through the roots of ancient trees.”
Unlike many contemporary trees that reproduce through seeds, the ancient trees in this forest relied on spores for reproduction. This contrasts with the familiar concept of spores in fungi, as these ancient trees similarly dispersed and proliferated by releasing spores into the air.