Imagine being able to go back in time nearly 300 million years and see the flora and fauna that has long since been extinct. Then imagine being able to freeze that moment in time like a snapshot. For professor Hermann W. Pfefferkorn, of the University of Pennsylvania, that experience became a reality. Pfefferkorn and a team of Chinese scientists found a nearly complete Permian era forest frozen in volcanic ash near a mining site in Wuda, China.
According to Penn News, Pfefferkorn is quoted saying, “It’s marvelously preserved…We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That’s really exciting.” The Wuda site is near a large coal mining operation. This provided a very unique opportunity for them to study this ancient forest on a large scale. They were able to study nearly 1000 square meters. This gave them an unprecedented look at the flora from that time. Pictured below, you can see a well preserved branch from trees classified as a Noeggerathiales. These trees were small spore-bearing trees that are long since extinct.
The ancient tropical forest dates back nearly 300 million years ago to what is called the Permian era. It sat on a peat bed which eventually became a layer of coal due to many years of pressure. Reminiscent of Pompeii, this forest was beautifully preserved in a bed of volcanic ash. The scientists examined and mapped out this preserved forest and were able to reconstruct how it must have looked millions of years ago. They worked with an artist to reconstruct this vast tropical forest. You can see one of the renderings pictured below.
This is certainly a significant find. It’s the first such finding in Asia and the first peat forest of its kind to be found anywhere from this period. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences early edition. You can also see the fantastic images of the preserved flora in the “Supporting Information” supplement here.