Tree fossil new to CEU Museum
Earlier this season, the CEU Prehistoric Museum received an unexpected discovery that could potentially redefine the roster of ancient tree species in the area. The find comes in the form of a 100 million year-old fossilized tree that was preserved in a life-like state down to a cellular level. With such an accurate representation, the paleontology team at the museum has been able to cross-reference samples of the tree in a database, but so far nothing conclusive has been identified.
"Inconclusive is good," said Jeff Bartlett, director of collections and research. "We could have a new species. It's old enough that it might be an early example of a species of tree, which would extend the ancestry."
The petrified wood itself is consistent with other specimens found in the area as it appears to be from a tropical, humid climate. However, up until now, the record of fossil woods in this time frame has been incomplete, which is why this discovery has spurred hopes for a better understanding of not only trees, but the climate itself.
"The thing I really like about trees is that they preserve their environment through their growth rings and cell structure. But you can have two trees standing side by side with different representations of climate; ideally we want a whole consensus," Bartlett said.
During the tree's lifetime, the world experienced a period known as the cretaceous greenhouse, in which climates and rainfall were substantially increased over present levels. This was also the time in which modern flowers began to appear. It is possible that this particular tree bore flowers, but this possibility is uncertain. When alive, the tree would have been about 40 to 50 feet high and broad-leafed. In its fossilized state, its consistency is that of solid rock. It weighs 800 pounds.
John Bird and Bill Hefner completed the excavation. Because part of the tree extended into a hillside, the process was more difficult than expected. However, once the excavation was complete, a plaster jacket was made which allowed the team to lift the sample onto a truck for transportation.
"It's beautiful fossil wood as it was well preserved and at the same time in jeopardy of being weathered out. The fun part's over (the digging) and now it's over at the bone lab." said Bartlett.