You may have heard of Pompeii, the Italian city near Naples that was buried in volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year AD 79. Although it wasn’t a great day for the residents, the burial of Pompeii under 13 to 20 feet of ash preserved the town for archaeologists to discover in 1749.
In China, scientists have made a similar discovery, this time of a well-preserved forest that is a mind-boggling 298 million years old.
The preserved ancient forest was found under a coal mine near Wuda, in Inner Mongolia, China, and dates to the Permian period. If the concept of “298 million years ago” is a little hard to process, consider this description, from Gizmodo: “During the Permian, which extends from 299 to 251 million years ago, there weren’t conifers or flowers. Plants reproduced like ferns, using spores, and the modern continents were still joined in a single mass of land called Pangaea.”
Dinosaur times, right? Wrong. Dinosaurs didn’t show up until the next period, the Triassic, and didn’t come to dominate until the period after that, the Jurassic.
Hermann Pfefferkorn, a paleobotanist with the University of Pennsylvania, said that “It’s like Pompeii: Pompeii gives us deep insight into Roman culture, but it doesn’t say anything about Roman history in and of itself. … But on the other hand, it elucidates the time before and the time after. This finding is similar. It’s a time capsule and therefore it allows us now to interpret what happened before or after much better.”