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The world’s oldest forest found on the coast of England

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Neil Davies

Petrified traces of the ancient forest are clearly visible on the rock surface.

“It was a very strange forest, not a forest as we know it today,” says paleontologist Neil Davies of the University of Cambridge (UK). “There was no undergrowth to speak of, and no grass either.”

Also trees (Calamopython) themselves did not resemble today’s trees. They were much shorter, no more than four meters. The trunks were thin and hollow inside, they had no leaves and their branches were covered with twigs (see picture below). They dropped them often. “It had a big impact on the landscape,” said Davies. This is according to a new study by the University of Cardiff and the University of Cambridge, published in a professional journal. Journal of the Geological Society.

The course of the river

Small rivers flowed through the area near Somerset and Devon in southern England. These deposited sediments were trapped in the forest’s root system. Huge amounts of twigs felled by trees ended up in the sediment. This accumulation changed the course of the rivers. Such changes first occurred in the Devonian period, whence this petrified forest originates and is named after the county of the same name.

Life on land expanded on a large scale for the first time during this period (419-358 million years ago). Seed-bearing plants appeared at the end of the Devonian period. The number of the first land animals, especially arthropods, also increased considerably.

A surprising fossilized find

For a long time, scientists thought that rocks near Devon and Somerset had little or no plant fossils from this period. The opposite turned out to be true. The researchers found the fossilized remains of the so-called Calamopython-trees different plants and root systems.

The area of ​​land where the petrified forests were found was still connected to present-day Germany and Belgium during the Devonian period. More forests of this type have been found there, but they are not as old as this found on the English coast. The former oldest forest was in the US state of New York. That forest is about four million years younger than the English forest.

Old trees of the genus Calamophyton

Peter Giesen/Chris Berry

An impression of the old trees of the family Calamophyton.

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