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Researchers analyzing one of the radial Archaeopteris tree root systems at the Cairo, New York, site CHARLES VER STRAETEN
Scientists have discovered the world’s oldest forest—and its radical impact on life
By Colin BarrasDec. 19, 2019 , 11:00 AM
Scientists have discovered the world’s oldest forest in an abandoned quarry near Cairo, New York. The 385-million-year-old rocks contain the fossilized woody roots of dozens of ancient trees. The find marks a turning point in Earth’s history. When trees evolved these roots, they helped pull carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and lock it away, radically shifting the planet’s climate and leading to the atmosphere we know today.
“The Cairo site is very special,” says team member Christopher Berry, a paleobotanist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. The quarry floor, about half the size of a U.S. football field, represents a horizontal slice through the soil just below the surface of the ancient forest. “You are walking through the roots of ancient trees,” Berry says. “Standing on the quarry surface we can reconstruct the living forest around us in our imagination.”
Berry and colleagues first discovered the site in 2009 and are still analyzing the fossils it contains. Some of the fossilized roots there are 15 centimeters in diameter and form 11-meter-wide horizontal radial patterns spreading out from where the vertical tree trunks once stood. They seem to belong to Archaeopteris, a type of tree with large woody roots and woody branches with leaves that is related in some way to modern trees, the team reports today in Current Biology. Previously, the oldest Archaeopteris fossils were no more than 365 million years old, Berry says, and exactly when the tree evolved its modern-looking features has been unclear. .......
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