Saturday, 27 February 2016

Canadian Fossils Have Outgrown Their Home

Canadian Fossils Have Outgrown Their Home
Let's Build a 'Paleo-Centre'

A ‘One-of-a-kind’ Collection - 350 mya Lower Carboniferous Fossil Evidence
‘Evolution’s Greatest Mystery’

Rendition for the 'new' Blue Beach Fossil Museum, Nova Scotia Canada.

Blue Beach, Nova Scotia Canada is internationally acknowledged by todays leading researchers as the oldest fossil site in the world showing evidence of the first 4-legged, terrestrial air-breathing creatures to move from water on to land: the tetrapods.
The first discovery of the 350 million year old fossil vertebrate footprint evidence at Horton Bluff (Blue Beach) was by Sir William Logan in 1841. Much later, in the 1940’s and 1950’s a researcher from Harvard (Dr. Alfred Romer) looked for evidence of these primitive land-animals and instead found  a ‘gap’ that spanned the first 30-million years of the Carboniferous Period (360 million years ago, a time of the early coal-forests). This famous gap was later named ‘Romer’s gap’ and not a single fossil bone had ever been discovered within the time of the gap, suggesting the most important chapters of today’s land-animals was missing.

 Periods of Time 

In 1966, the first fossil bones of these missing land-animals were discovered at Blue Beach, dating to the middle of Romer’s gap. Paleontologists descended on the site with renewed interest, but after 35 years of sporatic fieldwork they met with little overall success.

In 1995, citizen paleontologist Chris Mansky began systematically collecting and researching the fossils and has amassed a cornucopia of fossil evidence on these tetrapods along with several thousand specimens documenting various fish, some of the earliest forests and a trace fossil collection that has been called “A Rosetta Stone for Lower Carboniferous trace fossil studies”.

Then in 2000 at the end of Blue Beach Rd., Chris met Sonja Wood - owner of the Blue Beach property. After a six month courtship, it was obvious to both the importance of the fossils that were in her backyard. Together, they decided to put build a display in a small building to house some of the large collection of the fossils gathered from the shoreline adjacent the property for people to view. 

Since, the collection has attracted the attention of thousands of visitors and renowned paleontologist’s from around the world. Its specimens have been the subject of increasing study - the results appearing in many peer-reviewed science journals and publications. (see links below)

Romer's Gap Revisited

A Diverse Tetrapod Fauna at the base of Romer’s Gap

The Word from Above

With the strong encouragement of local and international scientists, members of the local communities, and initial financial contributions from levels of government, the couple began the process to create a world-class institution, since the expanding collection and vision for a proper research and education facility far exceed the resources of the current building. They envision the new professionally designed and much larger Blue Beach Fossil Museum telling the story of those first land animals and their world based on their fossil remains – a story that began 350 million years ago that ultimately lead to ourselves.

It would be a nexus for paleontological research, public education and outreach, and geo- and ecotourism, all contributing to new scientific discoveries.

The couple has made significant progress with the creation of a not-for-profit Society with Canadian Registered Charitable Tax Status and have obtained local permit approvals and assessments to move forward with the project. They are now poised to sell the sub-divided portion of the Blue Beach property for the purpose to accelerate the process to create the museum. To do so will require an experienced team of workers and of course additional financial resources.

They would thus welcome interested investors to participate in the creation of this new world class geoscience museum and therefore invite you to share their dream by becoming a Founding Patron or making donations to the project.

    Associated femora and tibia of earliest known whatcheeriid tetrapod, from the Lower Carboniferous of Blue Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada. 
Convex Palaeosauropus trackway, Lower Carboniferous of Blue Beach, Nova Scotia, Canada.

One of Canada's oldest fossil trackways of the tetrapod.

Further Reading:

Birthplace of Vertebrate Paleontology in Canada

Pioneer's of Life on Land & The Tetrapod's


Blue Beach, Nova Scotia Canada

The birth of ‘vertebrate paleontology in Canada’ took place one fine day in 1841, and it happened at Blue Beach, Nova Scotia (then known as Hortons Bluff). Sir William Logan discovered fossilized footprints of the first creatures, ever, to swim out of the water and walk on land, the tetrapods. These Lower Carboniferous creatures were the first air breathers of the coal-period.

Logan, a Scottish-Canadian geologist, was born April 20 1798 in Montreal and as a young boy his family moved back to Edinburgh, Scotland where he got his education. He never forgot of his childhood in Canada and dreamed of returning one day. Later, as a young man, he did returned to Canada and in 1842 was asked to establish, and became the first Director of the Geological Society of Canada and carried on as Director until 1869.

Sir William Logan

In various works between 1863 and 1896, J. W. Dawson, the eminent maritime geologist and Nova Scotian, reported on the rich fossil assemblage at this beach…naming several plant species, several new ‘trace’ fossil types (including Logan’s tracks, named Hylopus logani), as well as a diverse fish fauna (with sharklike ‘acanthodians’, primitive bony ‘ray-finned’ “palaeoniscoids”), and an impressive giant lobe-fin “rhizodontid” fish that was then known by only a few scales and teeth, and by a fragment of one lower jaw.

Sir John W. Dawson

The next major developments were the 1966 discovery of the first known tetrapod bone from the locality by researcher Donald Baird, the 1972 publication of new information on the vertebrate fauna by Robert Carroll of McGill, and the discovery of additional footprint varieties by Sarjeant and Mossman (1978). The discovery of additional tetrapod material stimulated interest in the site, leading to numerous scientific papers on all manner of subjects save the most important aspects of all…the tetrapods and the fishes themselves.

Dr. Donald Baird

Efforts to collect these bony remains proved that they were indeed very scarce at the best of times. Skeletons were not seen; rather one was dealing with loose scatters of isolated elements. After about 35 years of optimism about one day understanding this vertebrate fauna, the key researchers would eventually conclude “…unfortunately, the site would probably never yield anything more than a few enigmatic glimpses at best” (Clack and Carroll, 2000 – “Amphibian Biology”).

Dr. Jennifer Clack 2011 veiwing the tetrapod collection at Blue Beach, NS

Today beacuse of the efforts and collecting (of these significant fossils) by citizen-paleontologist, Christopher F. Mansky there is a new understanding and appreciation for Blue Beach as being truly a world-class fossil site. Widespread interest has been generated by leading experts who now view the amassed collection as the global standard. Blue Beach has now shown that there were anywhere from 6-10 kinds of tetrapods, making this an incredible diversity of early tetrapod life considering the sparseness of other tetrapod knowledge during this ‘Romer’s Gap’. Clearly this collection of fossils, now exceeding 70,000 lbs, has opened up about a hundred years of research.

Whereas the bony remains are ultra-rare, the footprints are abundant. As noted in the attachments, this is the oldest fossilized footprint collection in the world, as well as the largest collection of Carboniferous-aged tracks known today (the next largest collection to compare being from that from the Union Chapel Mine site in Alabama). The newly-aquired but still-unpublished tracks recovered by the BBFM (in the last 15 years) are the most important fossil-track discoveries of recent times, and promise to act as a ‘rosetta stone’ for scientists interested in deciphering the still much confused Carboniferous record of tetrapod footprints.

Christopher F. Mansky - BBFM Curator

The study of these Carboniferous tracks has been muddled mostly by uncertainties stemming from the smallness of those previous collections. In view of new, important early-collections (such as the Blue Beach, Union Chapel Mine and Pottsville assemblages) having come to light within the last two decades, a long-awaited review of this field of science (tetrapod ichnology) is ripe, with the Blue Beach collection playing the most crucial part. (BBFM is partnering with Spencer Lucas, footprint expert from the New Mexico Museum of Natural History in this review).

Dr. Spencer Lucas, New Mexico Museum of Natural History

Related Posts:
Saving Three Treasures

A Monument Fit For A Beast

A Monument Fit For A Beast

"The Rhizodont"
Blue Beach, Nova Scotia Canada
Why A Big Fish Monument?

Until now, artistic renderings of the rhizodonts have been very few and far between. There are less than a half-dozen drawings of whole-body rhizodonts in publication, even when one counts in the scientific journals. The general confusion in our history of rhizodontid fish studies has not only slowed the output of the scientists: it has nearly guaranteed that these fish would remain unmentioned while media has fed us a steady diet of comfortable paleontological subjects. Of course the story of life on earth is incredibly diverse and fascinating, so there are hundreds of subjects to feed a curious audience of such things.

There is a 3-D model of the rhizodont now at the Blue Beach museum, where it contributes to a large display of rhizodontid fossil bones. We use this to puzzle together the skeleton of a previously obscure fossil fish named Letognathus, which translates to the nice name “Jaws of death, annihilation or ruin”. Though this model is barely more than a foot in length it has another, even more helpful, purpose – a scale for something much bigger, the Big Dead Fish Monument.
The Blue Beach Fossil Museum Society's aim is to build a monumental version of the big dead fish in order to broaden the stifled paleontological art-world beyond dinosaurs and into something fundamentally more essential, like Evolution’s Greatest Mystery. It’s not that we’re art critics, or even connoisseurs – our non-profit organization (a recognized Registered Canadian Charity Status), is seeking financial donations to build a fifty-foot rendition of this mysterious beast at the enterance of the pathway leading down to Blue Beach for several reasons.
(1). To attract attention to our overall goal, to build a new state-of-the-art museum on-site.
(2). To help kick-off our fundraising campaign by attracting local contributors. (You can sponsor a single fish scale for x-amount, or a tooth for a larger contribution. Corporate donations could sponsor even larger parts…all to raise funds for the museum project).
(3). To promote an appreciation for the newer, untold ideas and stories in today’s paleontology.

(4). To create an attraction that people will want to visit, pose for photos at, show off to friends who haven’t yet seen, and to thrill young and old alike (rhizodonts are just as scary as T. rex)

Further Reading:
Saving Three Treasures
Thank you for reading our blog and posts !

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Word From Above

Blue Beach Receives Praise in Scientific Forums....


January, 19th 2007

To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing today in recognition of Blue Beach (also known as Hortons Bluff), Nova Scotia, as one of the most important fossil localities in North America. As such, the conservation of its fossils, both found and waiting to be collected, is tantamount to ensure our better understanding of the animals that passed over the fish-tetrapod boundary.

While dramatic, fully articulated skeletons haven’t (yet) been found, the vertebrate fossils of Blue Beach tell and interesting story. They represent the oldest fossils within the mysterious gap in the fossil record known as “Romer’s Gap”. Our emerging picture of the fauna from Blue Beach is one of transition; a Devonian-like form is present with classic Mississippian embolomeres, colosteids, and whatcheeriids. In no other place in the world can such fossils, of such an age, be found, making them of critical international scientific importance.

Past collecting efforts, dating back to the days of Sir Charles Lyell, the father of modern geology, and Sir William Dawson, eminent Canadian paleontologist from McGill, have been intermittent and short in duration. Even more recent collecting efforts, including those by Dr. Don Baird (then of Princeton), Dr. Robert Carroll (McGill), and in recent years by myself, only visit the site for a week or two every other year, and sometimes several years can pass between visits. However, the geologic processes at work on Blue Beach, with the cliffs being eroded twice daily by the highest tides in the world, mean that new fossils potentially appear daily, and are rapidly destroyed when exposed. During such collecting trips members of field parties would wax about how great it would be to live on the site and be able to collect every day, as the tide receeded. Little did we realize that our hopes would be met by Chris Mansky and Sonja Wood.

The intensive collecting efforts undertaken over the past decade by the Blue Beach Fossil Museum (BBFM), has been instrumental in our new understanding of the importance of this locality. Through concerted, daily, collecting literally tons of new material has been saved from the tides. Some of this material includes what for Blue Beach is a “holy grail”: articulated elements. The footprints in particular point at a faunal richness and diversity the fossils, biased by depositional processes to larger elements, only hint. Just as importantly, the BBFM has served as a magnet to local amateur collectors, whom have worked with the staff of the BBFM in furthering collecting and preparation efforts, and have even donated their personal collections for curation and display. This outreach effort is critical for a locality as difficult to work in traditional methods; many hands make work light, as the saying goes.

Finally, the BBFM provides a unique venue for science education. Didactic displays in the museum, and personal tours of the fossil areas on the beach provide information about stories in paleontology that often go unheard among the giant, cinematographic dinosaur specials on television. At the BBFM folks learn about the diversity of archaic fishes that ultimately resulted in you and I, for my money one of the most exciting stories evolution has to tell.

In summary, I believe that Blue Beach is critically important to our understanding of early tetrapod evolution. The work being done by the BBFM is a vital part of my ongoing research in Nova Scotia. The education and outreach I have witnessed during my visits has been extraordinary given the infrastructure in place, and I strongly encourage any efforts that can be made to support the expansion of the role the BBFM plays in its community along the Avon River, and to the international scientific community.

Dr. Jason S. Anderson

Associate Professor
College of Veterinary Medicine,
University of Calgary
Alberta, Canada

Acadia University
Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Canada B4P-2R6
Telephone: (902) 585-1229
Facsimile: (902) 585-1071

June 12, 2007
To whom it may concern:

I am writing this letter to support the development of the Blue Beach Fossil Museum (BBFM) initiative. In the past three years I have used the existing BBFM and the interpretive services of Chris Mansky and Sonja Wood as an integral component of the science education courses I teach in the School of Education at Acadia University. The quality of this learning experience as well as the enthusiasm student teachers gain for the fields of paleontology and geology are in my experience unprecedented. The important attributes of the physical site as one of the most important fossil sites in the world combined with the interpretive and public education expertise of Chris and Sonja are reasons why this experience has often been cited by the teachers as one of the main highlights in their teacher training if not their academic career. In a time when ‘junk’ science in the form of so-called ‘intelligent design’ is on the ascendant in some regions, the early Carboniferous fossils of Blue Beach provide one of the most outstanding opportunities for contributing to evolutionary science education in Canada. I believe that in supporting this initiative we will help build a lasting and significant educational and cultural resource for all Canadians.

Leo Elshof, PhD.

Science and Technology Education
Acadia University School of Education
Wolfville, Nova Scotia Canada

To whom it may concern

I am writing in support of the application by Sonja Wood, Director of the Blue Beach Fossil Museum and Research Centre, to have the Blue Beach property rezoned in order to allow a consortium of interested parties to establish a large modern museum on part of the land.

I visited the existing Blue Beach Museum in 2005 and congratulate Sonja and Chris on their excellent displays, and especially on the collection of fossils from Blue Beach , which is known throughout the palaeontological community as the Horton Bluff locality. This locality is especially important on a world scale as it preserves remains of tetrapods from a period in earth’s history in which only four tetrapod localities are known. The period has such significance that it was named “Romer’s Gap”, after Professor A. S. Romer of Harvard university who spent much of his academic life searching for just such a collection of fossils as have been found at Blue Beach. Romer’s Gap is important as it is in this 25 million year time period that tetrapods first invaded the land, and also the time in which the two great living groups of tetrapods, the Amphibia and Amniota, originated.

Yet despite the diversity of life represented in the Blue Beach collections (detailed in the letter from my graduate student, Katherine Parker), the tetrapod fossils are relatively rare. Only by the efforts of Sonja and Chris, and collectors such as Bob Godfrey, who visit the sites daily to search for more remains exposed by each tide, are these collections able to be amassed. The position of the Blue Beach Museum on land adjacent to the beach is vital in this regard. A new purpose built Blue Beach Museum at this site should incorporate preparation rooms and equipment that will enable fossils to be prepared, conserved and catalogued as soon as they are collected, and rooms for visiting researchers to study the collection, as well as displays of fossils to generate revenue from the visiting public.

This new museum should complement the recently established museum associated with the Joggins locality, and others such as the museums at Miguasha and the Nova Scotia Museum in Halifax, forming a chain of fossil centres across Canada. It would be enhanced by the recognition of Blue Beach as a Geosite and its designation as a Special Place, both potentially boosting international and local tourism. I would also strongly support its designation as a World Heritage Site.

Dr. Anne Warren
Associate professor
Department of Zoology
La Trobe University
Victoria 3086

Some Important Quotes about the New Museum Project at
Blue Beach

“I have been consulted by the group that have submitted the proposal for Joggins to be accepted as a World Heritage site, and specifically argued that Blue Beach should be considered as an equally important locality for our understanding of the early history of land vertebrates.

From these few miles of sea cliff and beach have come a host of fossils providing the only evidence, anywhere in the world, that provides a link between the very archaic amphibians of the Upper Devonian and the subsequent radiation of all later land vertebrates.

Together with the Parrsboro locality, these sites provide a spectrum across the geological time scale that has no equal anywhere else in the world.”

Dr. Robert L. Carroll, FRSC, FLS, Former Chairman,
Dep’t of Biology and Curator, Redpath Museum,
McGill University, Montreal, Canada.

“Blue Beach preserves the oldest extensive assemblage of fossil footprints of early tetrapods on the planet. It thus provides a unique window into understanding the early colonization of land, a window that no other site provides.
Clearly, Blue Beach is a world class (and it is a world famous) fossil site. It is a national treasure that Canada and Nova Scotia are lucky to call their own. Indeed, its scientific import ranks it with the other great Canadian fossil sites, such as Joggins, Miguasha, Dinosaur Park and the Burgess Shale.

The Blue Beach fossil site should be preserved, protected, studied and interpreted for the betterment of all.”

Dr. Spencer G. Lucas, Ph.D., Director, New Mexico Museum of
Natural History and Science, Albuquerque, New Mexico.


“As the scientist who compiled the ‘comparative study’ central to the Joggins nomination, I am an expert on the Carboniferous ecosystems of the world. If Joggins is the finest example of a fossil site from the latter part of the Carboniferous period, then Blue Beach is certainly one of the most globally important Early Carboniferous localities. I urge you to support the development of Blue Beach Museum proposal.

Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang, Lecturer in Palaeontology,
Dep’t of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, England.

“ I would like to add my support for the creation of a new museum at Blue Beach, Nova Scotia. As with some of the other proponents I would rank this site as or more important than the Joggins or Wasson Bluff since it marks a critical transition from sea to land and definitely shows that at least some of these early land animals came from the sea, not freshwater bodies.

The province has already invested very heavily in both Joggins and Wasson’s Bluff (Parrsboro), which are also extremely important sites. However, the Blue Beach site pre-dates those sites by several 10’s of millions of years, and is actually more important from a scientific and historic point of view.”

Dr. David Scott, President of Marine Geology Dep’t,
Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia

“I write in strong support for your government’s recognition of the Blue Beach Fossil Museum at Avonport, Nova Scotia, as a facility highly deserving…..

Given the success of famous fossil localities elsewhere in the Maritimes (e.g., Joggins and Parrsboro) [and for that matter, elsewhere in Canada], the Blue Beach fossil locality richly deserves similar respect and recognition, and officially sponsored moral and financial support.”

Dr. David Mossman, Professor of Geoscience, Emeritus,
Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick.

“I am writing in support of the Blue Beach Fossil Site, in order for it to be recognized as a World Class locality due to its unique and scientifically valuable fossil components, and to support the Sonja Wood and Chris Mansky of the Blue Beach Museum in their efforts to collect, exhibit, promote and educate the public on the Blue Beach site.

I believe the Blue Beach fossil site is the most significant Early Carboniferous vertebrate site of just the handful currently known.

I fully support the Blue Beach fossil site being recognized as one of global significance, and that promotional and educational facilities and infrastructure would be of enormous value to the local community, Canadians, and to the global scientific community.”

Dr. Katherine Parker (BSc Hons) PhD., Palaeontology
LaTrobe University, Melbourne, Australia.

Further Reading:
Saving Three Treasures

Donate to Help

Let's Build a 'Paleo-Centre'

Canadian Fossils Have Outgrown Their Home

Canadian Fossils Have Outgrown Their Home Let's Build a 'Paleo-Centre' A ‘One-of-a-kind’ Collection - 350 mya Lower ...