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Sanfordiacaulis model with simplified branching structure for easier visualization. Credit: Tim Stonesifer

Rare 3D fossilized tree found near Norton

By Brad Perry Feb 7, 2024 | 12:22 PM

A rare 3D fossilized tree is shedding new light on the evolution of early plant life in New Brunswick.

The discovery was made near Norton in 2017 by a team from the New Brunswick Museum.

Now, nearly seven years later, it is being featured in Current Biology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“This recent publication is the result of six years of research by an international research team from the New Brunswick Museum and U.S. institutions,” said Matt Stimson, assistant curator of geology and palaeontology at the museum.

“This fossil tree species is unique. A failed experiment in evolution at a time when all life on land was diversifying, including amphibians, and apparently plants as well.”

Stimson and Olivia King, a research associate at the museum and a Saint Mary’s University grad student, made the initial discovery.

Sanfordiacaulis being excavated from a quarry near Norton, N.B. Image: Matt Stimson

The several fossil trees discovered have been named Sanfordiacaulis, in honour of quarry operator Laurie Sanford.

Researchers said the fossil dates back about 350 million years to what was known as the Carboniferous period.

“The most remarkable feature of this tree lies in the way it sprouted extensive foliage around a slender trunk, with an astonishing abundance of leaves clustered closely together,” said a release from the museum.

“Unlike typical plant fossils, the Sanfordiacaulis remains have retained their leaves and branches intact, a rarity in the fossil record.”

Recent findings reveal that the quarry rocks primarily represent aquatic deposits from an ancient lake. The sandstones exhibit signs of seismic activity.

It is believed a landslide caused by an earthquake left the trees submerged on a lake bottom, ensuring swift burial and the preservation of their leaves and branches in a rare 3D state.