From around 420 to 350 million years ago, when land plants were still the relatively new kids on the evolutionary block and “the tallest trees stood just a few feet high,” giant spires of life poked from the Earth. “The ancient organism boasted trunks up to 24 feet (8 meters) high and as wide as three feet (one meter),” said National Geographic in 2007. With the help of a fossil dug up in Saudi Arabia scientists finally figured out what the giant creature was: a #fungus. (We think.) The towering fungus spires would have stood out against a landscape scarce of such giants, said New Scientist in 2007.
Fossils of the organisms, known as Prototaxites, had peppered the paleontological findings of the past century and a half, ever since they were first discovered by a Canadian in 1859. But despite the fossil records, no one could figure out what the heck these giant spires were. The University of Chicago. That all changed in 2007 when a study came out that concluded the spires were a fungus, like a gigantic early mushroom.
But not everyone was sold on the idea that Prototaxites was an early fungus. No one’s questioning the spires’ existence—people just have trouble trying to imagine that such a huge structure could be a fungus. Researchers trying to refute the fungus idea thought that Prototaxites spires were gigantic mats of liverworts that had somehow rolled up. But in a follow-up study, the scientists who had proposed the fungus idea doubled down on their claim. So science is messy, and despite more than a century of digging, we still don’t really know, for sure, what these huge spires that dominated the ancient Earth really were. @uncommonshamans