These are the first photos of some of the countless treasures found in the extraordinary 298-million-year-old forest discovered under coal mine in Wuda, Inner Mongolia, China.

The beautiful images show "the exceptional preservation of the fossil plants of the peat-forming swamp forest." The research team has found entire plants and trees, allowing them to confirm previously published reconstructions. It's also the first time ever that they have found fossilized tree and plant communities arranged in a forest.

Advertisement

Advertisement

A volcanic eruption buried the entire forest under ash, preserving it in this exquisite state, never seen before. The lead scientists classify it as a "Permian vegetational Pompeii" in the title of their research. According to University of Pennsylvania paleobotanist Hermann Pfefferkorn, it's an extraordinary "time capsule."

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.

Here are some of their findings.

Here is the excavation site, located on the northern Helanshan Mountains of Inner Mongolia, 5 miles (8 kilometers) west of Wuda. The ash-covered area itself is estimated to be 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) from North to South, but scientists have only been able to work in a 10,763-square-foot (1000-square-meter) area. The entire mine is 7.72 square miles (20 square kilometers).

Asterophyllites longifolius (A) and associated Paleostachya type strobili (B); Sphenophyllum oblongifolius (C) and associated strobili (D); Sigillaria cf. ichthyolepis leaf (E),

stem (F), and strobilus (G).

Ferns. (A and B) Pecopteris sp. with sporangia of Asterotheca type; (C and D) Pecopteris hemitelioides with sporangia of Eoangiopteris type; (E and J–K) Sphenopteris (Oligocarpia) gothanii

(F and G) Sphenopteris cf. tenuis; (H) Sphenopteris sp. 1; (I) Sphenopteris sp. 2 with abnormal pinnule (Aphlebia) at the very base of each ultimate pinna, indicating the plant may be a liana.

Ferns. (A) Pecopteris cf. candolleana; (B) Nemejcopteris feminaeformis; (C) Pecopteris orientalis; (D) Pecopteris sp.;

(E) Pecopteris lativenosa; (F) Pecopteris arborescens with abnormal pinna (Aphlebia) at the base.

Noeggerathiales. (A–D) Tingia unita: (A) a crown with strobili and once pinnate compound leaves attached to the stem, (B) isolated strobilus, (C) leaf with only large pinnules exposed, and (D) leaf with both large and small pinnules exposed; (E–H) Paratingia wudensis: (E) a crown with strobili and once pinnate compound leaves attached to the stem, (F) leaf with only large pinnules exposed, and (G) with small pinnules exposed after degagement, (H) a number of leaves likely attached to a common stem;

(I and J) Paratingia sp.: (I) a crown with strobili and once pinnate compound leaves attached to the stem, (J) a leaf with both large and small pinnules visible.

Cordaites and cycadophytes. Cordaites sp., (A) bunch of leaves and (B) reproductive organ; (C) Pterophyllum sp.; (D) a cluster of Samaropsis type of seeds; and (E) Taeniopteris type leaves. (Scale bars, 2 cm in A and C–E; 1 cm in B.)Cordaites and cycadophytes. Cordaites sp., (A) bunch of leaves and (B) reproductive organ; (C) Pterophyllum sp.;

(D) a cluster of Samaropsis type of seeds; and (E) Taeniopteris type leaves. [PNAS]