"The discovery is exceptional as the trees kept their wooden structure, they neither turned into coal nor were petrified," said Tamas Pusztai, the deputy director and head of the archaeological department at the local Otto Herman museum, who oversaw the excavation.
Archaelogists announced the find last week after uncovering the mysterious forest of taxodiums, a kind of swamp cypress, after a few days of digging.
Miners working in a brown coal mine had first uncovered several tree trunks that had been turned into coal, a common occurrence in this kind of environment.
"But further down, we found 16 trees that had remained where they had grown some eight million years ago and that are very well preserved," Pusztai said.
Catching a glimpse of these ancient tree trunks, which look like they belong on the set of a science-fiction film, requires descending about 200 feet into a 37,670-square-foot-large open mine.
All that is left of the trees is their trunks, 6 to 10 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall, although the original trees must have reached upwards of 100 feet.
"The trunks were preserved in their original form and material," said Miklos Kazmer, the director of the paleontology department at the Loran Eotvos Natural Science University in Budapest. During the Miocene period, which began over 10 million years ago, the region was covered by a giant lake with muddy and marshy shores, Lake Pannon, he added.
"The exceptional state of preservation of the trees is due to a sudden sandstorm which covered the forest (with sand) up to a height of six meters (20 feet)," Kazmer said.
All that was above perished but "the part that was buried under the sand remained beautifully intact," he added.
The eight-million-year old tree trunks still feel like wood to the touch.
Although 200 feet underground, the trunks cannot be moved as they "crumble" when exposed to air and sunlight, which are especially harmful given the wood’s age, the site’s chief archaeologist Janos Veres said.
As a result, strict security measures have been put in place: access to the mine has been limited to journalists and archaelogists, and forbidden to locals from nearby villages, intrigued by images shown on Hungarian television of the "lunar landscape" in their backyard.
The site is to close again soon and the archaelogists have started taking measures to preserve the trees.
Veres said the taxodiums were drying up before his eyes as the trunks "have lost their cellulose, which worked as a glue for the trees’ cell membranes."
Since the trunks are made of organic material, it is possible to conduct dendrochronology tests, which study tree rings to determine climatic changes during a tree’s life, a visibly enthusiastic Veres said.
The trees were probably 300 to 400 years old when they died "but since the trees did not (all) sprout on the same day, it is possible to study a period spreading over 1,000 to 1,500 years," he added.
A similar forest was already found in Japan, where archaelogists preserved it in a cement sarcophagus.
For the Bukkabrany site, between $220,000 and $270,000 will be needed to preserve the taxodiums, scientists said.
Via: Discovery Channel