The term “fossil” is typically associated with once-living things that have been turned into rock. But wood, leaves, mosses, and insects from an ancient forest in Maine were found preserved without having been mineralized. A recent study delved into the mystery of how these plant and other remains could still be so fresh.

Geologist Woodrow Thompson began investigating the “largest and best preserved accumulation of ancient wood…found in Maine” as part of a geologic mapping survey in 1976. He found pieces of wood buried in an Ice Age clay formation in a gravel pit. Local NBC News affiliate WCSH reported, “The trees encased in clay did not look that old, in fact some of the white spruce limbs still had needles on them that were green.”1

Thompson said, “These pieces of wood don’t fit your notion of a fossil….This is very fresh looking wood. It looks as though you could put a match to it and it might still burn.”1

At the time, he shelved the mystery in order to continue work on the Maine Geological Survey. But in 2007, hospital construction unearthed more samples from the same area. Thompson and his colleagues published these findings and an explanation for their origin in the journal Quaternary Research.2 Their article reported a carbon date for the wood of approximately 12,000 years in age….

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