Scientists just discovered an incredibly preserved 298-million-year-old forest buried deep beneath a coal mine in Wuda, China. The ancient forest in Inner Mongolia was preserved by volcanic ash, much like Pompeii. Both Chinese and American scientists are marveling at finds of 80-foot-tall trees from the Permian Era, which provide an incredible snapshot of plant life 298 million years ago.

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Lead by the University of Pennsylvania’s Herman Pfefferkorn, the scientists have been studying the fossilized forest and they published a paper this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists. The site was unearthed by machine when mining for the coal that lies above the forest. Over 3,300 square feet of the ancient forest have been examined thus far in the layers of ash spewed by a volcano from another time.

The Permian period trees were alive at the time that the continents were connected into the super continent, Pangea. Six groups of trees were discovered in the forest, including low tree ferns, 80-foot-high Sigillaria and Cordaites trees, and even an extinct spore-bearing tree called Noeggerathiales. The ash preserved these trees so well that Pfefferkorn and his team could find branches with leaves attached.

Scientists estimate that the preserving layer of volcanic ash fell over several days, totally engulfing the sprawling forest. The plants and trees that grew over the ash several hundred million years after were then slowly turned into the coal that is mined today. If it were not for the volcanic eruption, this forest would have turned into coal as well. This magnificent window to the ancient past is a rare time capsule that allows scientists to study Pangean Earth.

Via Gizmodo