World’s oldest forest found in New York’s Catskill Mountains

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By Dan Sears

Wood you believe it?

Scientists have confirmed the existence of the world’s oldest surviving forest — and the ancient, secret spot is only a short drive from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.

First discovered at the bottom of an abandoned quarry near the town of Cairo in the Catskill Mountains back in 2009, teams of British and American scientists have been working to learn the exact ages of the plants and trees growing in the area, where rocks up to 385 million years old hold the wooded area’s ancient, fossilized secrets.

Researchers from SUNY Binghamton and the University of Cardiff in Wales, were excited to find evidence of extremely early plants — some that would have “even been seen by dinosaurs,” the BBC reported.

The forest, just over two hours’ drive from NYC’s George Washington Bridge, once spread out over an area of about 250 miles. Scientists have been focusing their efforts on an area roughly half the size of a football field.

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Rocks containing fossils dating back 385 million years were found in the scenic mountain region.
Rocks containing fossils dating back 385 million years were found in the scenic mountain region. brandtbolding – stock.adobe.com

“The Cairo site is very special,” Christopher Berry, a paleobotanist at Cardiff University, told Science in 2019. “You are walking through the roots of ancient trees. Standing on the quarry surface we can reconstruct the living forest around us in our imagination.”

For years, Berry and his colleagues have been examining plant and tree fossils in the area to help them build their case.

The New York site joins more far-flung locales such as the Amazon rainforest and Japan’s Yakushima Forest in an elite group of O.G.’s.

Those interested in visiting the exact site will be disappointed, at least for the time being — the quarry is owned by the Town of Cairo, and is currently strictly reserved for scientific study, out of concern for preservation of the area.


The site isn't currently open to the public, but is surrounded by a wealth of scenic beauty.
The site isn’t currently open to the public, but is surrounded by a wealth of scenic beauty. demerzel21 – stock.adobe.com

There’s plenty else to see in the area however. Skiing at Windham Mountain and the trendy shops and restaurants of the city of Hudson are both just minutes away, while the hiking trails of Catskill Park are right on Cairo’s doorstep.

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The Cairo site isn’t the only extremely old find in the region — another forest site was previously discovered in nearby Gilboa, dating back just three years shy of the current crownbearer.

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