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The strange role of fungi in the demise of coal formation

5 July 2012

At www.geneticarchaeology.com/research/A_group_of_fungi_marked_the_end-of_t… … is a strange article but that might be as a result this site is about archaeology and the subject matter is geology – the coal seams of the world. It begins by saying that 300 million years ago the Earth suddenly interrupted its massive production of coal. This was in effect the end of the 60 million year period known as the Carboniferous, a period characterised by the massive formation of large carbon beds arising from the accumulation and burial of ancient trees growing up in vast marsh filled forests, or estuarine locations. Hence, we have an interpretation of the process that is assumed to have been a gradual build-up of biomass that formed the coal deposits. Neo-catastrophists may interpret it somewhat differently. Whatever, a paper in Science is suggesting that at the end of the Carboniferous a group of highly specialised fungi evolved, organisms that were living on the decaying plant biomass and effectively digested it and turned it into something other than coal. So, not only were the trees and vegetation buried, squashed, and generally mangled but those trees were being eaten by fungi and bacteria – but is that surprising? Well, in this case it is surprising as it is assumed the action of the fungi brought an end to coal formation – and that is why coal never formed in the following periods. It was no longer buried in layers of mud and muck – as had been happening for the estimated 60 million years. On the other hand the coal deposits may be instant burial and deposition as a result of some kind of catastrophic upheaval – in which case the fungi were there all the time. Take your pick. For some reason the link above does not work although it is the same as given by the article when uploaded. If you can't reach the article directly go to www.geneticarchaeology.com and the menu on the LH side will have the article in question. It is near the top at the moment but will undoubtedly drop down as new posts are added.

Somewhat more down to earth is the discovery of a thousand rock carvings on islands in a lake in northern Russia – some of them laid out like a comic book strip cartoon and suggesting big egos by hunters or just a clever artist at play – see http://sciencenordic.com/stone-age-cartoons/ which appears to be another site of interest to add to the list being compiled for occasional visits.

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