A 385-Million-Year-Old Forest in NY Is the Oldest in the World

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Jan. 5 2024, Published 3:30 p.m. ET

Scientists uncovered a fossil forest in upstate New York that offers clues to its nearly 400-million-year-old history, making it the oldest known forest in the world.

According to Science, "dozens" of fossilized ancient tree roots exist at the 385-million-year-old site. This includes what scientists believe to be Archaeopteris, which is about 20-25 million years older than what scientists previously thought to be the oldest of its kind in the world, per a 1999 report shared by ScienceDaily.

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About an hour's drive from the Catskill Mountains sits an abandoned quarry where the site resides and has been carefully protected from outside interference that would disturb the ongoing research. Here's what we know about the fascinating geological discoveries.

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What is the world's oldest forest?

The world's oldest forest that we know of has been identified by a team of paleobotanists and other scientists and researchers near Cairo, N.Y., a region beside the Catskill Mountain range.

Per Science, the site was first found in 2009 and has given researchers clues into how forests develop, what ancient CO2 levels were like, and how the oxygen levels at the time may have contributed to the gigantic growth of various animals and insects.

The oldest forest in the world sits about a 40-minute drive from another fossil forest in Gilboa, N.Y., whose remains are estimated to be just a few million years younger than the more recent discovery in Cairo. The Gilboa fossil forest was previously thought to be the world's oldest forest, per Science and BingUNews, which gives rise to skepticism from some in the field when record-setting assertions are made.

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"I'm usually skeptical when folks use absolutes in their science language because our understanding is constantly evolving," explains Oklahoma Geological Survey Field Geologist Dr. Carla Eichler to Green Matters exclusively. "So, what's the 'oldest' has truly yet to be proven to be the oldest."

Record-setting titles notwithstanding, the Catskill region is thought to be fertile ground (so to speak) for additional research, per BingUNews, that will provide scientists clues into ancient trees and land animals that paint a more complete picture of the evolution of the earth.

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What is the oldest living forest?

While the Cairo site has been bereft of public activity as scientists and researchers continue exploring its fossilized remains in private, outdoor enthusiasts may be wondering what the oldest living forest in the world is and where they can find it.

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The 180-million-year-old Daintree Rainforest in Australia takes the cake as the oldest living forest in the world, according to an oldest.org article. The area is home to a thriving, rich diversity of reptiles, amphibians, and insect species and is the site of nearly a half-million tourists annually.

The rainforest is also home to 80 percent of all fern species in the world, and per Australia's tourism website, the great British historian Sir David Attenborough called it “the most extraordinary place on Earth.”

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