Fossils found in Mantua 140-million years old

Raissa Tetanish rtetanish@trurodaily.com
Published on March 10, 2016

A high resolution image through a Scanning Electron Microscope shows pine tree fossils dating back 140-million years (from the Cretaceous ‘Age of the Dinosaur’) found in Bailey Quarry in Mantua, just outside Windsor, Hants County. Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, who discovered the seven-millimetre long fossil, says it shows pines have always co-occurred with fire since their origin.

©Howard Falcon-Lang, Royal Holloway University of London

WINDSOR - A new fossil specimen found at Bailey Quarry outside Windsor has waited long enough.

The fossils are of the familiar pine tree, which dominates Northern Hemisphere forests today. Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, of Royal Holloway, University of London, discovered the fossils in the quarry in Mantua.

“The fossils are important because they show that pines have always co-occurred with fire since their origin 140 million years ago,” Falcon-Lang said when reached in the United Kingdom.

It was Prof. Martin Gibling of Dalhousie University who found the fossil site, and invited Falcon-Lang as an expert on these particular fossils.

“Martin has a keen eye for fossils and has worked on the famous Joggins Fossil Cliffs,” said the fossil expert.

The tiny fossils, which measure about seven millimetres long, sat in Falcon-Lang’s cupboard for about five years after being collected. 

“It was only when I digested the rock samples in hydrofluoric acid that the tiny fossils became visible. It was incredibly exciting when I first viewed the fossils under the Scanning Electron Microscope. The tiny fossils were incredibly beautiful. However, very quickly I also realized that they were incredibly significant,” he said.

A press release on the find said the fossils, dating from the Cretaceous ‘Age of the Dinosaurs,’ are preserved as charcoal, the result of burning in wildfires.

“The fossils suggest that pines co-evolved with fire at a time when oxygen levels in the atmosphere were much higher and forests were especially flammable,” reads the release.

Falcon-Lang says pines are well adapted to fire today.

“The fossils show that wildfires raged through the earliest pine forests and probably shaped the evolution of this important tree,” according to Falcon-Lang says. 

Modern pine trees are prone to lethal fires because they store flammable resin-rich deadwood. They produce, however, huge numbers of cones that only germinate after a fire, which ensures new trees are seeded once the fire passes.