The story of coal began long ago on the floor of ancient, dense forests that grew in the midst of swampy wetlands, where organic matter such as plants and algae would sink to the bottom and get compressed under the weight of overlying mud and vegetation.
As the plant matter sifted deeper into the ground, away from oxygen, it decomposed at a slower rate than normal, leaving behind most of its carbon in the form of a substance known as peat. With heat, pressure and the passage of time that peat eventually becomes coal.
Miners at Dotiki got a reminder about the origins of their product last week when a bit of history fell right out of the ceiling.
“There are times when you’ll see the outline of a fern imprinted in the rock, but its not often you see something solid that can be transported to the surface,” said Eric Blanford, an engineer with Alliance Coal.
Blanford said that on Thursday, miners found an ancient tree truck. It was later transported to the surface, where it was weighed. It came in at 3.15 tons, or 6,300 pounds.
“We called the Kentucky Geologic Society,” Blanford said. “They are going to come down and look at it. I really don’t know what they’ll do.”
Although such a find is notable and rare, its not alone. UK’s Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS) lists a number of such fossilized trunks that are currently on display around the commonwealth. Most were found in coal seams. According to the organization’s website, they are not petrified trees, but rather are natural casts of the trees, formed when sand filled in the holes left by decayed stumps.
“The guys actually saw another one (on Friday), but it didn’t hold together,” Blanford said.
This is not the first time that ancient items of interest have been found at the Webster County mine. In 2011 miners found what scientist identified as the jawbone of a 300-million-year-old shark.
That is approximately the same age the KGS believes most of the tree fossils found across Kentucky to be.
Reach MATT HUGHES
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