The Petrified Forest of Lesvos, Greece: Is there anything that could last longer than stone? Nature has a way of turning organic material into stone, this process is called petrification. In fact, petrification is a process by which wood is turned to stone, so petrified trees are, in fact, a type of fossil. In this process, all the organic elements of the tree are replaced with minerals like quartz or silicate but the tree keeps the same form, even to a microscopic level, so tree rings and other typical marks of vegetal tissues can be observed.
Petrification takes place underground and the buried wood, being in contact with sediments and mineral-rich waters flowing through the tree's cells, starts changing its own chemical structure. Cellulose easily decays away and a mineral mold, stone, takes its place. Due to the lack of oxygen, the wood is this way preserved and the different elements taking part may color the petrified wood in different ways.
Although pure quartz crystals are colorless, some contaminant elements, such as copper, add their own red, green, black or yellow color. If the reader wants to step back in time some million years, he may follow the traces of the majestic petrified woods on Lesvos which developed in the Late Oligocene to the Lower /Middle Miocene Periods.
As there was great volcanic activity on Lesvos during the Oligocene and the Miocene ages, the volcanic ashes covered the trees of the area, which favored the fossilization process to turn them into Silicified remains of the subtropical woods on the Northern West area of Lesvos, between 15 and 20 million years ago. Thus, the geology of Lesvos, rich in volcanic rocks like andesites, dacites and rhyolites, ignimbrite, pyroclastics, tuffs and volcanic ash, facilitated the process along which these pyroclastic elements covered the vegetation on the island isolating it rapidly from the adverse atmospheric conditions and helping the hot solution of silicon dioxide impregnate and penetrate the volcanic ashes covering the trees. This process was comparatively fast and perfect, molecule to molecule, and lead to a petrified forest in excellent conditions.
As Greeks recognize the great geological value of this natural treasure, the Petrified Forests of Lesvos were declared as Protected Natural Monument by the special presidential decree number 443/1985. The decree regulates the correct management of the woods and the numerous isolated petrified trunks scattered all over the island.
In order to take this decree into practice, the government took some interesting measures such as the creation of the Natural History Museum of Lesvos Petrified Forest, in 1994. The organization intends to do research on the forest and to promote responsibly this natural treasure among locals and tourists. In addition, the organization holds several educational programs to encourage respect for this and other pieces of mankind heritage among high school, college, and university students. These measures will certainly complement the intention of Nature to perpetuate its own wonders.