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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ancient Rainforest Discovered Underground

Coal miners in Danville, IL are used to seeing a stray plant fossil here and there on the ceilings of their mines, but what they uncovered this time was far more than that. Once the discovery's importance became obvious, they called in a revered paleobotanist from the UK and a curator of fossils from the Smithsonian.

All were astonished to find miles of ancient, fossilized rainforest, perfectly preserved in the coal mine. Something they describe as a "an artist's canvas painted in flat gray." The rainforest existed about 300 million years ago and its remains cover approximately 4 square miles. It's like looking at a snapshot of one of the world's first rainforests.

Scientists believe an earthquake about 300 million years ago dropped the rainforest under sea level and buried it with mud, preserving it forever, probably in a matter of months. One of the scientists said some of the tree trunks were buried "in a flash."

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