First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest

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.

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.

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest

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).

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest

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


First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest stem (F), and strobilus (G).

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest 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

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest (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.

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest Ferns. (A) Pecopteris cf. candolleana; (B) Nemejcopteris feminaeformis; (C) Pecopteris orientalis; (D) Pecopteris sp.;

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest (E) Pecopteris lativenosa; (F) Pecopteris arborescens with abnormal pinna (Aphlebia) at the base.

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest 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;

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest (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.

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest 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.;

First Photos of China's 298-Million-Year-Old Buried Forest (D) a cluster of Samaropsis type of seeds; and (E) Taeniopteris type leaves. [PNAS ]