Chinese Pompeii
An artist's depiction of what the forest would have looked like before it was buried in ash. PNAS

Researchers unearthed a Chinese Pompeii - a 300 million-year-old forest preserved under a thick layer of volcanic ash, researchers announced Tuesday.

The Roman town of Pompeii became famous after being buried from a volcano eruption over 2,000 years ago and researchers said the 39-inch (100-centimeter) layer of ash likely came from a similar volcanic event.

This ash-fall buried and killed the plants, broke off twigs and leaves, toppled trees, and preserved the forest remains in place, the authors wrote in an article published Monday in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Coal workers near Wuda, China discovered the coal mine that dates back to the early Permian Period, a period 250 million to 300 million years ago that ended with a mass extinction.

The researchers identified six kinds of plants growing together in the forest; three of which are extinct. The forest strand marked the first time researchers discovered the plants growing together.

It's marvelously preserved, Hermann Pfefferkorn, study co-author and environmental science professor at the University of Pennsylvania said in a statement.

We can stand there and find a branch with the leaves attached, and then we find the next branch and the next branch and the next branch. And then we find the stump from the same tree. That's really exciting, he said.

The ash kept the forest so well preserved researchers could map 10,000 square feet of ancient forest down to the placement of individual trees. Researchers worked with a painter to recreate what the scene would have looked like before ash fell.

Pfefferkorn told BBC News that this finding could act as a baseline for assessing future finds and likened it to the Roman city of Pompeii.

Pompeii gives us deep insight into Roman culture, but it doesn't say anything about Roman history in and of itself, he said. But on the other hand, it elucidates the time before and the time after. This finding is similar. It's a time capsule and therefore it allows us now to interpret what happened before or after much better.

Mount Vesuvius buried Pompeii under 20 feet (6 meters) of ash when the volcano erupted in 79 A.D. Ash immaculately preserved buildings, food, animals and people in a town that explorers rediscovered in 1738.

Ash preserves cities and forests by burying them underground and shielding them from air and moisture.