Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Magic of Petrified Wood

Petrified birch from the Blue Forest, Wyoming.
In my spiritual life, to better connect to the natural world around me, I use allies as focusing tools, like animals, plants, and stones. I love trees, and feel a strong affinity with them. They have taught me to slow down, to stand and be present in the moment, to breathe in seasons and touch stillness. For this same reason, one of my favorite stones to work with is petrified wood. I use a lot of fossils, the petrified remains of organics that lived millions of years ago. I call them earth bones. They are the ancestral stones I hold when I meditate backwards through my family lines.
Almost as magical as the rock itself, is the process it undergoes to become stone. The word petro is Greek for “rock/stone.” When something petrifies, it literally becomes stone in a process called permineralization, where organic material is replaced over time with minerals, mostly silicates. Many fossils form as compressions or impressions, but petrified wood uniquely forms as a three-dimensional representation of the original, preserving detail at the microscopic level. To feel the weight of the minerals in your hand and the coolness of the stone while your eyes perceive grainy bark… it is a wonder of the natural world.
Wood becomes preserved when it is buried under sediment, where a lack of oxygen stops aerobic decomposition. Then, water rich in minerals flows through the sediment, where they deposit in the plant cells. Permineralization begins when silica from the mineral-laden water permeates the wood. Next, this solution penetrates the pores of the cell walls. Then the cell walls, cellulose, begin to dissolve while, elsewhere in the trunk, the minerals begin to build up, preserving the wooden frame. The last to decay is the inner lignin of the tree. Afterwards, silica deposits itself in any spaces in between the cells, until it finally penetrates the cell lumina, the cavity within the walls of the plant cell. It might fill these voids with chalcedony, agate, quartz, calcite, pyrite, or opal. Finally, lithification occurs, which is the process where sediment compresses under pressure, into rock, as water loss continues to occur. The initial silica is amorphous, which is unstable. Over millions of years, due to more extensive polymerization and water loss, the silica transforms into a more stable crystalline structure, like opal or quartz.
Cellulose, hemicelluloses, and lignin account for 95% of the dry weight of live wood. After permineralization, 90% of the weight of the fossil is silica, showing that very little, if any, of the original material remains [according to Leo & Barghoorn (1976), Sigleo (1978), and Mustoe(2008)]. Permineralization is one of the most accurate modes of fossil preservation. Because different layers of the wood decay and fill in with silicates at differing rates, it preserves the individual parts of the tree, though accuracy varies between specimens. Some are “sugary,” where the cell detail is blurred. Others show the tree rings intact, and still more are comprised of such a fine grain of silica, that the histology of the original tree can be studied satisfactorily.
Believe it or not, that bark is pure stone!
Some specimens of petrified wood, when uncovered, are pure silicate/quartz white, though, over time the sun will darken it. Other minerals add to the beautiful colors of the petrified wood. Carbon colors the specimen black. Cobalt and chromium both add hues of green and blue. Manganese tinges the stone with pink and orange, while manganese oxides color it in yellow and black. Iron oxides color it with red, brown, and yellow.
Petrified wood is a common fossil, but the conditions needed to create it are specific. Temperatures over 212 degrees Fahrenheit will break the wood down before the process can occur and excessive pressures will deform the organic tissues. And not only does it need mineral-rich water but, chemically, wood breaks down when the water’s pH value is below 4.5 and above 7, so the window for a perfect environment is still precise.
They are treasure from the earth, gifts in their assurance as to the cyclical nature of life, and the knowledge that life will out in the end. I use them as touchstones. Their process of transformation traverses so many millions of years that I use them to connect to the past, as if I can take a shortcut and touch any point of time in their linear history. When you come across petrified wood, take a moment to touch it and connect into it. Touch the energy of the spirit of the tree it was once a part of and be reminded of the larger, universal web we are all a part of.

Facts and Folklore
·         Most of the petrified trees have been given the name Araucarioxylon arizonicum. 
·         Petrified wood is found on every continent except for Antarctica.
·         There are petrified trees more than 10 feet in diameter and 100 feet long at the Petrified Forest National Monument, Santa Cruz Province, Argentine Patagonia.
·         The stone of Alberta, Canada is petrified wood.
·         The Chinese government has cracked down on the collecting of this material.
·         The Museum of Natural History in Chemnitz, Germany has specimens that date back to their discovery in 1737.
·         The Puyango Petrified Forest in Ecuador has one of the largest collections in the world.
·         Egypt declared their petrified forests to be national protectorates.
·         The largest forest can be found in the Petrified Forest of Lesvos, on Lesbos, Greece, covering 93 miles. Upright trunks with roots intact can be found there. Some trunks measure up to 72 feet in length.
·         In the Great Sand Sea of Libya, pieces of petrified trunks and branches are littered over hundreds of square miles, along with Stone Age artifacts.
·         At low tide along the coast of Wales and England, submerged petrified forests become visible.
·         Seven species of tree have been identified through petrified wood.
·         Petrified wood is often used in lapidary work, cut into cabochons for jewelry and slabs for table tops and counters.
·         The oldest known species of petrified wood can be found near Gilboa, New York, dating to the Devonian period, over 358 million years old.
·         The stone in the National park in Arizona are of the Triassic Period, over 160 million years old.
·         Petrified wood is associated in metaphysical worlds with the astrological sign Leo and the Base Chakra.
·         Petrified wood and dinosaur bones are the best-known specimens of permineralized fossils.
·         Petrified wood is found in large numbers in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Germany, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Greece, Indonesia, India, Israel, Libya, Namibia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.

·         In the United States, Petrified Forests and Parks can be found in abundance: the Gilboa Fossil Forest in New York; the Petrified Forest in Mississippi; the park in Lemmon, South Dakota; Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota; the Petrified Springs in Kenosha, Wisconsin; Yellowstone Petrified Forest and Gallatin Petrified Forest in Yellowstone, Wyoming; the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado; the Ginkgo Petrified Forest, Wanapum State Park in Washington; the forest in Calistoga, California; the National Park in Holbrook, Arizona; the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Utah.


  1. I just love that you wrote this about petrified wood. After harvesting quite a bit of petrified wood from my old stomping grounds in Mississippi...I definitely felt that they were bones...the way they sound when the clank together says it all...

    I have been handing out these stones to friends and strangers, alike...telling them about the petrified wood's ability to help us tap into our ancestral lineage, to focus on ancestral healing, and to open ourselves up to nourishment and support from our ancestors.

    I just love that you came to similar conclusions when handling these fossils <3 Thank you for sharing!

    1. That makes me extremely happy! It is good to find people in our travels who connect to nature in the same ways we do. It really is one of my favorites!


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