Into the Permian Woods (Discover Magazine)

Reconstruction of the forest by Ren Yugao. (Image source: PNAS vol. 109 no. 13)

Reconstruction of the “vegetational Pompeii” in its heyday by Ren Yugao. (Image source: PNAS vol. 109 no. 13)

Nearly a decade ago Hermann Pfefferkorn and Jun Wang—scientists from opposite sides of the globe—came together to go prospecting among the granite slabs of Inner Mongolia’s Helan Shan mountain range. From nearby fossil finds, they knew the mountains preserved plants and animals that flourished long before the dinosaurs. Though the researchers had trekked the route often, this time they noticed that coal 
miners had freshly exposed a gleaming white bed of volcanic rock. The rough sediment appeared to be stamped with blackened forms. When they clambered up to investigate, they realized the markings were hundreds of plant fossils. “As we split the rocks, we saw the marvelous preservation,” recalls Pfefferkorn, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

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