for National Geographic News
A giant fossilized rain forest has been unearthed in an eastern Illinois coal mine near the town of Danville (Illinois map), scientists announced today.
Preserved by a major ancient earthquake, the forest covers four square miles (a thousand hectares) and features an abundance of huge leaf impressions, large trunks of extinct trees, and tree-size horsetail plants, the researchers said.
The fossils reveal a 300-million-year-old forest that bears little resemblance to most wooded areas today.
Trees in the ancient forest sported few branches and were veiled with only scattered leaves, allowing plenty of sunlight to filter down from the forest canopy.
"The climate was ever wet, hot, and humid," said Scott D. Elrick, geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS).
"The modern-day equivalent would be some of the peat swamps of Indonesia."
Elrick is co-author of a paper detailing the discovery published online by the journal Geology.
The forest's animal life was also unlike any found today. Early amphibians, dragonflies the size of seagulls, and nine-foot-long (three-meter-long) millipedes roamed the now lost world, the scientists said.
But no fossils of these lost animals remain, according to Elrick.
"We only saw a few insect parts," he said.
Preserved by Earthquake
A major earthquake 300 million years ago caused the forest to drop below sea level, burying the entire ecosystem in mud almost immediately, Elrick explained.
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