Drillers Find Ancient Wood Near Eureka

While drilling a well for a new park, pieces of wood that could date back tens of thousands of years floated to the surface

By Justin Franz

John Post has been drilling wells for 30 years and he’s seen a lot of things emerge from the depths of the Earth. But what happened last month near Eureka surprised even him.

In early November, the owner and driller of Post Pump and Drilling was working on a new well for a community park in Eureka when chunks of wood began floating up to the surface. The wood looked like charcoal and it was coming from about 150 feet below ground. Most of the pieces were small, but others were quite large, with one measuring about 5 inches long by 5 inches wide and an inch thick.

“Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of things come from deep under the ground,” Post said. “I was surprised to see such large pieces of wood that far down.”

As luck would have it, James Madison, an associate research hydrologist with Montana Tech’s Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, was on-site observing the drilling process for a groundwater study in the Eureka area. Madison said while it’s surprising to see wood come up from the dark depths of the Earth, it’s not unheard of. In fact, it’s somewhat common in Eureka and along the Montana Highway 37 corridor, which he said was a bit of a hot spot for ancient wood discoveries. A few years ago, someone drilling a well in the area found some ancient wood more than 500 feet down.

Madison said the wood was trapped in clean sand about 150 feet down, suggesting that it was trapped in what was once a river delta associated with the movement of glaciers in the area. It’s unclear exactly how old the wood is and Madison said he plans on sending a piece to a Florida company to have it carbon dated. Madison said if it’s “younger” than 40,000 years old, the company should be able to pinpoint a fairly exact origin date. Anything beyond 40,000 years would have to be an estimate because the wood will most likely be considered “carbon dead.” The test is expected to take a month.

The new community park will be located behind Western Building Center on the north end of Eureka. When complete, the 20-acre park will feature soccer fields, a running and biking trail, and an ice rink.

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