Fossils of the Earth’s Oldest Trees Donated to New York State Museum

Fossils of the Earth’s oldest trees have been donated to the New York State Museum after workers uncovered them during a project to reconstruct the Gilboa Dam in Schoharie County.

Engineers for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) discovered 35 Gilboa stump specimens in the same location where similar Gilboa stumps were uncovered in 1920 when the dam was constructed. Other smaller discoveries were made in the 1850s and in 1869. Twelve new stumps will be added to what is now the world’s largest collection of Gilboa stumps at the State Museum. The stumps are widely cited as evidence of the world’s oldest forest.

For decades scientists did not know what the trees connected to the stumps looked like. This mystery was solved in recent years. For the first time, the entire tree was pieced together after Museum researchers found fossils of the tree’s intact crown in 2004, and a 28-foot-long trunk portion in 2005. In 2007, Nature, a leading international journal of science, reported the discovery of the 380-million-year-old “stunning specimens” in Schoharie County, marking the first time paleontologists had seen the entire Devonian-Period tree. The discovery was named one of the “100 top Science Stories of 2007” by Discover magazine.

Linda Van Aller Hernick, the Museum’s paleontology collections manager and one of the co-authors of the 2007 Nature article, discovered the tree’s crown in 2004, along with colleague Frank Mannolini, paleontogy collection technician. The year before, Hernick wrote “The Gilboa Fossils,” a book published by the Museum about the history and significance of the fossils and their use in an iconic exhibition about the Earth’s oldest forest. The exhibition, at the State Museum’s former location in the State Education Department building on Washington Avenue in Albany, had a profound influence on multiple generations of paleontologists worldwide.

The State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Founded in 1836, the Museum has the longest continuously operating state natural history research and collection survey in the U.S. Located on Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Further information can be obtained by calling (518) 474-5877 or visiting the museum website at www.nysm.nysed.gov

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