Nature magazine reports that scientists at two universities, working with the New York State Museum, have turned up the fossilized remains of the world’s oldest forest floor—right here in our midst, up in the Catskills town of Gilboa. The existence of the forest has been known since the ’20s, but examination of the floor has given a better idea of what actually grew there:
‘The world's oldest fossil forest’, famously the subject of an innovative exhibit at New York State Museum in the 1920s, was discovered during stone quarrying for the Gilboa dam and reservoir in Schoharie County, New York. Palaeontologist Winifred Goldring undertook the scientific description and illustration of in-place Eospermatopteris stumps and speculated on their significance. Her original publications continue to influence views on the origin of forest ecosystems, including the roles they may have had in global dynamics and extinction. The quarry was backfilled and remained inaccessible for 90 years, but in 2010 Stein et al. located the original ancient forest soil surface and mapped part of the site. Instead of one kind of tree, they found three, with evidence of spacing and biotic interactions between surprisingly different plant forms. These discoveries should have a major impact on interpreting further fragmentary fossil evidence of these early forests.
The discovery has prompted other national stories and visualizations of what the mid-Devonian period—about 385-398 million year ago—might have looked like, including dramatic renderings of cladoxylopsid trees.
Below is an image from The Albany Times-Union’s website, of a display which evidently used to greet visitors at the State Museum:
Here’s an interview posted on YouTube with one of the Binghampton scientists responsible for the new excavation: