The Cairo Fossil Forest

The Cairo Fossil Forest


The land surrounding Cairo, Egypt is home to some of the most significant human archeological sites in the world, tracing civilization back thousands of years. Now, Cairo is making archeological history once again but this time it’s Cairo, New York not Cairo, Egypt.

About 385 million years ago, trees grew and fell in an ancient forest in Upstate New York. In 2009, scientists from the New York State Museum, including Dr. Charles Ver Straeten, discovered what has turned out to be the oldest Devonian fossil forest remnants in the world.

In an area internationally celebrated for art and literature, science is now taking the Catskills back to its earliest roots. Paleontologist have uncovered the archeological footprint of what is believed to be the first prehistoric forest. This find surpasses its more well-known sister site in Gilboa, located about 26 miles west of Cairo, and largely acknowledged until now as the the most ancient forest site of its kind.

The Cairo site, located in an abandoned quarry, is drawing global attention after being mapped by Dr. Bill Stein, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at the New York State University of New York at Binghamton and Dr. Chris Berry, a palaeobotanist from Cardiff University in Wales.

Professors Stein and Berry, along with scientists from the State Museum in Albany and from Sheffield, England, have uncovered the remains of two types of ancient trees including Archaeopteris and the fern-like Eospermatopteris.

What appears to be a third type of tree fossil continues to be studied.

Another surprise was the detection of oceanic fish fossils at the site, an unusual find for a coastal forest and most likely indicative of cataclysmic events such as a tidal wave or a hurricane.

And in news sure to amuse locals who endure the frigid winters in Upstate New York, researchers report that the area was formerly tropical and that the land mass on which the Cairo Forest is located originated near the equator migrating to its present position as a result of continental drift.

The emergence of trees on earth millions of years ago fundamentally changed the ecosystem of our planet and helped open the door for more advanced life forms. The continuing evolution of plants, trees, and animals created an environment that supported dinosaurs and then, hundreds of millions of years later, humans.

Trees and human civilization are inextricably intertwined, a notion exemplified by the Tree of Life, which is an ancient and recurring motif that crosses the boundaries of many religions, philosophies, and mythologies.

Like trees, humans are rooted to the earth, live within the sky’s air, drink water and absorb the rays of the sun. All of these elements are essential for both trees and humans.

The Catskill Fossil Forest by William Stein, Linda Van Aller Hernick, and Frank Mannolini is available for check out from the library.