July 31, 2007—It may look like a haunted forest—but this rare cluster of fossilized trees is luring scientists in, not scaring them away.
The eight-million-year-old swamp cypress forest was found recently near the village of Bukkabrany in northeastern Hungary, officials announced today (map of Hungary). Miners uncovered the unusual find while digging for lignite, or brown coal.
The remains of the 16 uncovered trees—which range from about 13 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters) tall and 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) around—are an oddity because they did not petrify, or turn to stone, as preserved trees usually do.
Instead, the trees retain their original wood, giving scientists vital clues to the puzzling geology and climate of ancient central Europe.
At that time, the Pannonian Lake that submerged much of present-day Hungary and its neighbors had begun to retreat. Meanwhile global sea levels had begun to fall, which eventually caused all or some of the Mediterranean Sea to dry up.
"The importance of the findings is that so many trees got preserved in their original position in one place," Alfred Dulai, a geologist at the Hungarian Natural History Museum, told the Reuters news service.
"But the real rarity about these trees is that ... their original wood got preserved ... they did not turn into stone."
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