April 22, 2017

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Petrified rocks should be protected

Crude petrified rock.

For decades our country had been preyed upon and exploited by the greedy businesspersons from within and without. Almost anything is being smuggled out of the country. Among the many things that are being smuggled out, but not much attention or interest given to, are the petrified woods or rocks (Ingyin Kyauk). The petrified woods or rocks are fossilized trees and treelike terrestrial plants that are highly valued and even revered in some Asian countries. In a neighbouring country I had seen people burning incense sticks, lighting candles and placing fruits and flowers as offerings and praying to a large fossilized tree trunk that was exposed when the banks of a stream eroded due to the flash floods. They believe that such trees have spirits dwelling in them, a superstition, which most rural people shared.
As for the people in China, they make furnitures and ornamental objects with these woods, which they value so much and proudly displayed them in their offices, homes and gardens as symbols of wealth and high standards living. In some countries high quality petrified stones are used to make jeweleries. As for the Myanmars, most of us don’t know their real values and uses other than as whetstones to sharpen tools or flints to make fire. I have a small piece of inferior quality petrified rock, that I use for sharpening kitchen knives, which I had bought at an annual pagoda festival. We should learn to value these objects more than just for sharpening tools and making fires only.
I think it would be necessary to explain briefly how the petrified woods are formed, based on my meager knowledge gained through reading. Thus it may not be very comprehensive, but just enough to give a rough idea for those who are not familiar with them. The term petrified has it roots in the Greek language, where petro means wood transformed into stone or rock. The petrifaction process took place underground in an oxygen-free environment when trees and tree-like terrestrial plants were covered by sediments or volcanic ashes and were being initially preserved. The mineral laden water seeping through the ground released the minerals, mostly silicates of quartz, onto the buried trees. These inorganic minerals replaced the organic matters in the buried trees through the permineralization process and transformed them into stones or rocks, while still retaining the original structure of the plant tissues and their general appearances. Sometimes Opal stones, a type of precious gem, are found embedded in the petrified woods. Some petrified woods were dated as old as approximately 230 million years.
Such woods or rocks are abundantly found in the Nahtogyi township in the Mandalay Region, where a lucrative trade in them had been going on for decades. The main purchasers are the traders from China. I’m not sure whether there is any proper restriction on them. If not, these rare objects would face depletion. There are only few places in the world where such woods are found. In some countries, including China, India and Thailand, our closest neighbours, the areas where such woods are found are designated as National Parks, where extractions are strictly banned.
It is learned that the petrified woods are found only in about 24 countries worldwide. These petrified woods are usually found in large numbers, as the entire forests were transformed into rocks. Such places are called petrified forests. Except for our country, all the others had designated their petrified forests as National Parks. One thing I cannot understand is, our country is not even mentioned in the list of countries where such forests exists, while China and Thailand, which are the regular purchasers of our petrified woods, are included in that list. Both of them had designated their petrified forests as National Parks and strictly banned extractions. However, in our country, the unscrupulous businesspersons are indiscriminately extracting them and exporting them, either legally or otherwise.

Polished cross-section of petrified rock.

As the process of the transition from wood to rock took hundreds of million years, that fact alone made them highly valuable; not only in terms of monetary value, but also in their scientific value. Taking into consideration the durations it took them to become petrified or fossilized, they are very unique and rare. In my opinion they are our National Treasures, which we should preserve. We should also learn more about the geological evolution of the places where they are abundantly found, which could shed some important light on our geological past.
The geological researches had revealed many unthinkable facts about the evolution of our planet Earth. The studies of the rock formations in the European and the American continents revealed that they were once connected. Also the discoveries of fossilized palm trees, which are tropical species, in the frigid climes where no such trees grow there today are very interesting. This fact indicates that vast changes in the weather conditions had taken place over millions or may be even billions of years. Those discoveries shed very useful informations on the evolution of our Earth.
In conclusion, I would like to urge the departments concerned to look into this matter and take drastic actions to stop the indiscriminate trading in such rare and valuable objects. They should consider designating such areas as reserved areas or parks as in other countries. Not only petrified woods, but our country is being exploited of our precious timbers, jades, gems, rare ambers and other resources by outsiders because of lack of proper protections or restrictions. For decades due to laxity in control we had incurred great losses through smuggling and illegal trading, as some irresponsible authorities had turned blind eyes to such going-ons. It’s high time that strick and effective controls be put in place and harsh actions imposed on the perpetrators.

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