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Mud and silt rushed into the depression, preserving the stumps and logs in a layer that eventually became shale.Neuropteris, part of a frond of a "seed fern", seen on the mine ceiling or roof.But, carbon dating can't be used to date either rocks or fossils.It is only useful for once-living things which still contain carbon, like flesh or bone or wood.A metal plate keeps the stump from falling and injuring the miners. This stump would have been "rooted" in the very top of the coal bed.Lead study author Bill Di Michele said the lateral extent of the fossils allowed him to notice subtle changes in species diversity as he did surveys.
Their discovery was recently published in the journal "Geology" entitled "Ecological Gradients Within a Pennsylvanian Mire Forest." The rainforest extends over more than four square miles as the roof of two adjacent underground coal mines in eastern Illinois.Giant tree ferns would have formed a lower canopy 30 feet high.Poking up through the ferns would have been 100-foot-tall clubmosses , asparagus-like poles that sprouted crowns full of spores.The forest's animal life was also unlike any found today, it was the age of insects.Early amphibians, dragonflies the size of seagulls, and nine-foot-long (three-meter-long) millipedes roamed the now lost world, the scientists said.
Where most botanists do their work by walking through a forest, Di Michele takes elevators down mine shafts "to get beneath the forest.