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The surprising US region that’s home to the world’s oldest forests

The Surprising

Topic: The surprising US region that’s home to the world’s oldest forests

The discovery of a 385-million-year-old forest in Cairo, New York, has stunned the world – but visitors to the region have been able to see rare and ancient fossil forests for more than a century. Picture a hot, tropical landscape near the equator full of shallow seas. Birds and invertebrates don’t yet exist. Neither does the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, a mountain range the height of the Andes looms over fragile stretches of trees that resemble palms. This is what New York state looked like during the Devonian period, roughly 400 million years ago. It was a pivotal moment in time when forests as we now know them first appeared on Earth, radically shifting the planet’s climate. There are Devonian rocks scattered across the world, but during the 19th and 20th Centuries, the town of Gilboa, New York, became world famous for the discovery of its rare fossil forests (groups of preserved tree stumps containing the remnants of ancient trees). They were recognised as the oldest in the world at around 380 million years old. That is, until the 2018 discovery at a quarry in nearby Cairo, New York, revealed evidence of a 385-million-year-old forest, which has been estimated to be two to three million years older than Gilboa. In January 2024, the Cairo discovery hit the news again, when the site received funding to protect the currently off-limits area as a first step towards turning it into an educational site and scientific preserve. Fossils are constantly popping up in the region. Since approximately 10% of New York has Devonian rocks, the Catskills and the counties north of them are a dream for hikers and rockhounds alike.

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Topic Discussed: The surprising US region that’s home to the world’s oldest forests

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