Chinese coal miners discover a 300 million-year-old forest preserved in a layer of ash

Chinese coal miners discovered a botanical Pompeii, a 298 million year old forest well-preserved in ash from a sudden volcanic eruption.

University of Pennsylvania paleobotanist Hermann Pfefferkorn announced the discovery this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Unlike coal, that is formed from peat bogs that are pressurized over eons, the blanket of ash froze the fauna in time.

"It’s marvelously preserved," Pfefferkorn told Penn News. "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."

Some of the specimens observed were Noeggerathiales, an extinct spore-bearing tree that is related to ferns. The scientists identified six groups of trees, some as high as 80 feet. The site is near Wuda, China.

During this time in earth's history, the climate was tropical and similar to the temperatures found in present day. The earth looked a lot different since the continents were grouped much more closely around the equator

Pfefferkorn likened the finding to Pompeii. He says that it doesn't provide deep understanding of that era. Rather, the finding is a time capsule, a glimpse of time that helps elucidate what happened before and what came after.

Image is a reconstruction of the ancient forest from University of Pennsylvania