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What Prehistoric Trees Looked Like

As you walk down a suburban street or take a stroll in the woods, do you ever wonder what the first trees looked like? Scientists now know the answer to that question because they have found some tree trunks that are 380 million years old?in a forest in New York State!

Sometimes finding valuable information is as simple as looking down?or looking around. New York biologist William Stein found new evidence related to the Earth's earliest forests in an nearby forest. This evidence finally puts to rest speculation about what trees might have looked like millions of years ago. Stein and his team found this evidence in an area cited as home to the Earth?s oldest forest which is located near the Gilboa Dam in Schoharie County, NY, the region has yielded tremendous tree trunks from the Devonian era, meaning they?re roughly 380 million years old.

These trunks have been studied by paleobotanists for about a century, but scientists could only guess what the tops of the trees looked like. Giant seed ferns, perhaps? Something like a modern palm tree? There was a lot of speculation and a few drawings, but no actual data to back up any of the possible reconstructions. Two years ago, researchers discovered what they thought was an "odd specimen," a fossil complete with an extensive trunk system and a crown attached. The fossil, more than 12 feet long, offered the first evidence of how big and complex the trees were and what their tops, or "aerial portions," looked like. Stein says, "They were able to collect this thing as you would a dinosaur."

Nearby, a second 19-foot-long fossil reinforced some of the data offered by the first. "We now really have these trees nailed,? Stein says. "We solved a mystery that?s been around for 100 years. It looks remarkably tree fern-like."

Meanwhile, BBC News reports a new theory that ancestors of humans began walking upright while they were still living in trees, not out on open land. Before this, it was assumed that humans began walking on land using the "knuckle walking" technique that is used by gorillas today or by swinging from tree branches by their arms, which is how smaller primates navigate. Researcher Robin Crompton came to this conclusion after watching orangutans walk from branch to branch in this way.

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

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