History of Petrified Wood

The word “petrified” comes from the Greek petra meaning “rock”.  Any kind of tree can be petrified, and fossils range in age from 385 million years old to a mere 15 million years old.  The fossils in Petrified Wood in Arizona, USA is from a variety of confer species as well as gingko trees, which flourished 218-211 million years ago.  The Petrified Wood in Madagascar is only slightly older at 220 million years and seems to be exclusively from extinct Araucaria species, which are similar to modern monkey puzzle trees.  Considering the size of these two deposits and the relatively close time period, it begs the question, what happened to cause two distant forests to both turn into stone?

Around 220 million years ago, the supercontinent Pangea began to split apart.  As the tectonic plates shifted, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions became increasingly common.  By 200 million years ago, the Triassic Era came to an end with an explosion of volcanic eruptions causing a mass extinction event.  The ash from the various explosions covered forests around the world, turning some of them into stone.  A similar event happened 20 millions years ago in Indonesia, when the regional tectonic plates began to shift between India, Indonesia and Australia.  Indonesia is prone to volcanic eruptions, as it lies along the Ring of Fire.  One or several of these eruptions resulted in a huge mass of ash which covered the forests creating Petrified Palmwood and the shallow coastline, creating Agatized Coral.

Petrified Wood is found in locations worldwide and has many myths associated with it. One of the most interesting myths belongs to the Apache Tribe in the American Southwest. This region is home to Petrified Forest National Park, the largest deposit of petrified wood in the world.

According to legend, in the beginning days wood did not burn and so the People had to live in the cold and eat their food raw. One day the trickster god, Coyote, decided it was time for a change. He tied a torch to his tail and began to run all over the world, deliberately lighting forests on fire! All over the world, trees burst into flames. Because while they may have been immune to “normal fire,” this was “trickster fire,” a divine element far more potent and powerful! Coyote’s tail swung back and forth, touching trees as he ran. Not wanting to light the entire world on fire, he kept his tail from touching rocks. As a result of this wild run, trees are now flammable while rocks remain impervious to flames.

Of course, Coyote missed a few trees along the way, and sometimes even whole forests. Since these ancient trees weren’t touched by divine fire, they remain fire-proof to this day.