Around 420 million years ago, during the Silurian, the ground was only colonized by non-vascular shrubs and tiny insects, except for one exception: Prototaxites. These primitive, fungus-like spires reached up to 8 m (26 ft) in height, by far the largest organisms on land at the time. For decades, paleontologists have wondered what the hell these things really were.
Now, a small group of scientists think they have the answer. Their results were recently published in the American Journal of Botany. Their article, “Structural, physiological, and stable carbon isotopic evidence that the enigmatic Paleozoic fossil Prototaxites formed from rolled liverwort mats”, is available for free for the next 30 days only.
Coming on the heels of a discovery that Ediacaran organisms had musculature, this year has been a good start for paleontology. That Ediacaran finding contradicts the doubtful paper from 2008 that asserts that giant protists may be responsible for pre-Cambrian ichnofossils attributed to early bilaterians, and another paper that argues that the