The incredible mushroom of Gondwana

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Archaeologists have an incredible job. They dig up the remains of worlds from millions of years ago and try to put them together piece by piece to form a view of what life was like way back when. As more and more discoveries are made the growing pieces change what the overall picture looks like with many historians revisiting their assumptions years later to realize they were completely wrong. This makes every small discovery incredibly important. The older the discovery the more valuable the piece. While a dinosaur skull from 200 million years ago would clearly be astounding, anything from that period would be a career-making achievement for a researcher.  That was why, when Sam Heads discovered a 115 million old mushroom, he knew it was special.

Heads was reviewing some fossils from the ancient Crato Formation in modern-day Brazil. He specializes in insect fossils and so was surprised when he came across a particular discovery that was clearly no insect. While a mushroom may not sound that remarkable, think about it. Think about the average mushroom in your home. If it dropped under your couch and got to last a few extra weeks, it still wouldn’t last very long. 

The mushroom does not live a long time, it is soft, and decays very fast. To find a fossilized mushroom at all is incredible, only ten have ever been discovered. This one was even more special because it dated back 115 years. This made is the oldest mushroom ever discovered. 

If that doesn’t sound too old, consider this. The mushroom lived at the same time as the dinosaur. Although it was found in modern-day Brazil it did not grow on any continent that we have in existence today. Instead, it is believed to have grown on the continent called Gondawa. Gondawa is the ancient supercontinent that once held South America, India, Australia, Africa, Arabia, and Antarctica all together.

To think about what must have transpired in those 115 million years and how the mushroom managed to remain in such good condition all that time is remarkable. The research team decided to name the mushroom Gondwanagaricites magnificus, or “magnificent fossil mushroom from Gondwana.” A fitting name to an incredible discovery. Who knows what other great discoveries lie in the fossils at the bottoms of our oceans and rivers. Perhaps there are clues to parts of ancient civilization that we haven’t even considered yet.