Truly Petrified

by Anna

Ever been so petrified you turned into stone? Nowhere near enough as the petrified piece of wood that I am holding in my hands.

I can’t quite get my head around it. This brown lump that looks like a piece of a small tree trunk with the only difference being the smooth polished glass-like surface and the stone-like weight is said to be something in the lines of a mighty 250 million years old. Or as close to this daring assumption of a piece of history that quite likely stood on earth before even the dinosaurs did.

Humans only dared setting their foot on earth a comparably insignificant 200 thousand years ago. That’s like what? A fossil tree that’s 1200 times older than humanity or 1200 years for every year of humanity. Bless my boyfriend’s capability to at least try to calculate this for me 🙂

Now I wanted to know what the earth looked like at the time of the tree. According to the BBC, it would fall roughly inbetween the Permian period, 290 – 248 million years ago, a mainly arid supercontinent with low oxygen levels, and the Triassic period, 248 – 205 million years ago, which was characterised by heat, vast deserts and warm seas and at which time the supercontinent of Pangaea is said to have begun breaking apart.

Apparently there wasn’t much growing on the planted back then other than conifers in various forms and shapes. Is my piece of fossil wood a conifer?

It was the Permian mass extinction that ended the Permian period and preceded the Triassic Period, nicknamed The Great Dying, since a staggering 96% of species died out. All life on Earth today is descended from the 4% of species that survived. Did my fossil tree die during that time? Truly petrified at the sight of a massive mass extinction?

Petrified wood derives from a tree that has fallen onto the ground and is then quickly submerged by mud and henceforth cut off from oxygen, delaying the natural decaying process. As the tree slowly decays, it’s cells fill with water and as the water evaporates, leave behind mineral residues which in the end replace the organic tree matter with solid stone.

Different minerals will influence the colouring of the fossil tree. Silicone is much more likely to retain the original colouring of the tree as opposed to calcite, which turns the wood white.

I have to say that I am truly honoured to hold a piece of stone in my hand that has existed for soo many, many years. It is beyond my capability to think that far back. I only just began coping with the 60 000 years since my prehistoric ancestors left Africa to populate Europe, but 250 million is quite a bit more.

And after all this petrified wood has witnessed, it ends up in a shop for a mere £21. Hardly worth the amount of time it has sat and waited to be dug up. It reminds me once again how small and insignificant we humans are as a race, as a population that believes it knows it all and uses that knowledge to destroy the planet, an entity that has lived for 4.5 billion years … a number too big for my boyfriend’s calculator to show … or a rough gestimate of 23 000 years for every human year. Please don’t lynch him should the numbers not match a 100% 😉

Amazing what one can learn in an afternoon 🙂

Please, please, please humans, don’t destroy this wonderful planet with all its wonders and miracles! It would be such a shame!