The following fossil tree stumps were found in upright positions, and are now on display in public areas in Kentucky. Many fossil logs and plants on display in museums and public institutions were found on their sides, and represent plants that were transported from their original position. Only the upright, in-place stumps are listed here.


Whitfield Stump

Whitfield stump as it appeared when it was behind the Whitehall Classroom Building at the University of Kentucky.

Location: Outside Mining and Mineral Resources Building, University of Kentucky

Original location: Harlan County, underground coal mine

Rock unit found in: Above Harlan coal bed, Pikeville Formation, Breathitt Group

Age: Middle Pennsylvanian

Stump type: Fossil lycopod tree with Stigmaria roots

History: The history of the stump is summarized from an article by Tipton (1967) and several news articles (see articles and photos). The stump was recovered from the roof of the Clover Fork Coal Co. mine near Kitts, in Harlan County, in 1938. The mine was managed by George Whitfield, who took the effort to remove the several-ton stump from his mine, even building a special car to carry the stump out of the mine. The roots were broken from the stump, but Mr. Whitfield had the roots recemented to the stump for a display in Kitts, where it remained for many years. In 1961, the stump was donated by Mr. Whitfield to the University of Kentucky.

The stump was mounted on a timber frame and moved by heavy-duty truck to UK. The stump was delivered and stored while a plan was devised to move the stump to a site for public display behind Miller Hall. At the time, there were fears that the stump might be damaged during relocation. To more gently rest the heavy rock mass of the central stump, large ice blocks were placed over a bed of gravel at the display site in the winter of 1961. The frame was removed and the ice was allowed to melt so the stump could settle softly in place. In the summer of 1962, Dr. Irving Fisher from the Geology Department, reconnected the detached roots to the main central stump block. Through the years, more cement was added as pieces came loose or were damaged, and a few of the ends of the roots were lost.

It was placed on display behind Miller Hall which was the science building at the time the stump was moved to campus. Later, the White Hall Classroom Building was built near the stump. Generations of students have seen the Whitfield stump behind the Classroom Building. It is noteworthy for being one of the few Pennsylvanian coal tree stumps on public display that retains many of its roots. It is also one of the largest Pennsylvanian tree stump fossils on public display in North America.

Whitfield stump moved to new home at KGS in 2017

The Whitfield stump was originally placed behind Miller Hall, which was the science building in the 1960s, but sciences, including earth science (geology), later moved to other buildings across campus. In 2017, a decision was made to move the stump nearer the current earth science and mining engineering facilities on campus. The stump was removed from its old location on campus by a professional preparators during the summer of 2017. It was moved and restored behind the Mining and Mineral Resources Building in the spring of 2018. The Mining and Mineral Resources Building houses the Mining Engineering Department and the Kentucky Geological Survey, and is close to the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The fossil is the stump of a fossil lycopod tree; it is not a petrified tree fossil. It is actually a natural cast of the tree, formed when sand filled in the hole left by a decayed stump and its roots. Lycopods were the most common trees in the coal-forming swamp forests of the Pennsylvanian Period. Their fossils are commonly found in both of Kentucky’s coal fields. The stump and coals from the area around Harlan are approximately 312 million years old.

 


Morehead State Stump

Fossil tree stump on display outside of Lappin Hall, Morehead State University.

Location: In front of Lappin Hall, Morehead State University

Original location: Elliott County, surface outcrop (possibly old borrow pit)

Rock unit found in: Pikeville Formation, Breathitt Group

Age: Middle Pennsylvanian

Stump type: Fossil lycopod tree with Stigmaria roots

History: The Morehead stump was found by Jim Chaplin, a geology professor at Morehead State, in 1962. The stump was found in Elliott County (near Stamping Ground, Laurel Creek). The stump was excavated prior to detailed geologic mapping in the area, but on subsequent geologic mapping, the area in which the stump was found is likely in the Pikeville Formation. Notes from earlier geologic maps of the area indicate common stigmarian rootlets in underclays of the Grassy and Little Caney coal beds, so the stump may be from one of these horizons.

Dr. Chaplin saw stigmarian root fossils sticking out of the side of a hillside and collected several pieces. For several years, he and Allen Lake, a biology professor, went back to the site and collected hundreds of pieces of the root system, carefully keeping track of which pieces connected to which pieces. They also dug back into the hillside to see if there was a tree trunk attached to the root systems. Stigmarian root fossils are abundant in the coal field, but fossil tree trunks are much less common. In most cases, the tree trunks rotted before they could be buried and possibly fossilized. Recognizing that they had fossil roots that were attached to a tree trunk, the two professors excavated the fossil tree trunk and brought it back to Lampin Hall. They cemented blocks of native stone to cement blocks and then carefully reassembled the roots and trunk on their stone base.

For many years the reassembled fossil tree trunk was on the first floor of Lampin Hall. In 1997, the decision was made to display the stump outside of Lapping Hall. A pavilion was constructed, and the tree and its roots were placed on a stone mound, similar to how they may have appeared in life (although they may extend deeper in the display than they may actually have extended in the soil). The Morehead stump is noteworthy for being one of the few Pennsylvanian coal stumps on public display that retains many of its roots.

The fossil is the stump of a fossil lycopod tree; it is not a petrified tree fossil. It is actually a natural cast of the tree, formed when sand filled in the hole left by a decayed stump and its roots. Lycopods were the most common trees in the coal-forming swamp forests of the Pennsylvanian Period. Their fossils are commonly found in both of Kentucky’s coal fields.

Learn more about fossil lycopod trees.


Pine Mountain State Park Stumps

Fossil tree stumps near the Nature Center, Pine Mountain State Park.

Location: Near the Nature Center at the start of the trail to the side of the lodge

Original location: Letcher County, creekside exposure (possibly old surface mine)

Rock unit found in: Uncertain, but likely from Grundy or Pikeville Formation

Age: Early or Middle Pennsylvanian

Stump type: Fossil lycopod trees

History: The stumps were discovered by W.B. Miracle and donated to the state park by his wife, Rachel. Three stumps are on display. They are presumed to have all been collected from the same mine, representing part of an ancient wetland “swamp” forest. All are the stumps of fossil lycopod trees. They are not petrified tree fossils, but rather are natural casts of the trees, formed when sand filled in the holes left by decayed stumps. Their roots were not preserved leaving a flat, or slightly curing “kettle” bottom.
Lycopods were the most common trees in the coal-forming swamp forests of the Pennsylvanian Period. Their fossils are commonly found in both of Kentucky’s coal fields.

Learn more about fossil lycopod trees.


McCreary County Museum Stump

Location: In front of the Museum in Stearns, Kentucky

Original location: Underground mine near Stearns

Rock unit found in: Stearns coal zone, Grundy Formation, Breathitt Group

Age: Early Pennsylvanian

Stump type: Fossil lycopod tree

History: The stump was recovered from a local underground coal mine. The fossil is the stump of a fossil lycopod tree; it is not a petrified tree fossil. It is actually a natural cast of the tree, formed when sand filled in the hole left by a decayed stump and its roots. The roots of this stump either broke off during mining or were not preserved. Part of a thin coaly rind is preserved on the stump. Lycopods were the most common trees in the coal-forming swamp forests of the Pennsylvanian Period. Their fossils are commonly found in both of Kentucky’s coal fields.

Learn more about fossil lycopod trees.

 

See Photographs of Standing Fossil Tree Trunks

 

Last Modified on 2021-12-21
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