How was this fossil forest discovered?
One of the responsibilities of the ISGS is to try to understand the geology of the state of Illinois. For the Coal Section at the ISGS, that means trying to visit the coal mines in the state on a regular basis. When the Riola mine opened in 1996, geologists from the ISGS visited and noted the presence of fossil plants in the roof of the mine. Plant fossils are not uncommon in Illinois coal mines, so while notes were made, nothing exceptional was thought of the discovery. As time went on, more coal was mined, more of the mine roof was uncovered and the plant fossils didn't stop! Fossils were numerous and showed excellent preservation.
Adding visits to the Vermillion Grove mine, Survey geologists soon realized that a very interesting story was waiting to be told about the fossil plants, and in 2004, contacted Bill DiMichele from the Smithsonian and Howard Falcon-Lang of the University of Bristol, both experts in paleobotany. With the assistance of Phil Ames of Peabody Energy, a large study was then undertaken to try to understand the mosaic of preserved plant fossils presented just over our heads in the gray shale of the mine roof.