The Blue Beach Fossil Museum is in the works to become one of the most important facilities for geological research and the recovery of fossils. It is now recognized as a world class fossil site and the only place in the World that bodily remains of Tetrapods (four-legged animals) have been found from the very earliest part of the Carboniferous Period.
At one time, over 350 million years ago, Nova Scotia was joined on with Africa and was located just south of the equator. Therefore the climate was tropical and home to a wide variety of plant and animal life. But at this time which is named the early Carboniferous Period, the vertebrates were mostly all aquatic, they were just beginning to leave the water for land.
Geologist have noticed a scarcity of fossils from this time period and have named it the "Romer's Gap" after the paleontologist who noticed this gap. Now fossils that have been discovered at Blue Beach have the potential to fill this gap.
There are two formations of the Horton Group found here, the Cheverie Formation which is mostly sandstone to the southeast and the Middle Shale Unit of the Horton Bluff Formation of the Devonian to Early Carboniferous age.
The Horton Bluff formation was deposited in a very large wave dominated lake or restricted marine bay. This bay was filled periodically from sediments from rivers and deltas.
The Horton Bluff formation contains many well-preserved sedimentary structures filled with fossils.
The beach area is mostly sand but gets rocky near the cliffs. The cliff faces are very high and the rocks can be loose. Caution has to taken close to the cliffs as they are continuously eroding and can come crashing down.
Blue Beach and Horton Bluff are located along the Bay of Fundy's Minas Basin where the Avon River flows in. This area is constantly under the stress of the highest and fastest tides of the world which is constantly eroding away the shoreline. What this means is that new fossils are continuously being uncovered here. Fossils that are 350 million years old!
The first fossils recorded being found in this area was in 1841 by Sir William Logan, the first Director of the Geological Survey of Canada. He happened to notice different marks on rocks that were being used on the wharf at Windsor. He inquired as to where the rocks had come from and was pointed to the Horton Bluff / Blue Beach area. While looking over the area he discovered footprints from a tetrapod which was the first Carboniferous prints ever found in the world.
Up until then it was believed that fish were the only vertebrates alive at that time and that vertebrates did not come on land until the Permian Period. His discovery was the first to suggest an earlier transition onto land.
But this was not readily recognized, for when he showed his find at the prestigious Geological Society of London they failed to acknowledge the importance of the discovery.
It wasn't until Sir William Dawson discovered footprints of both amphibians and reptiles at Joggins, Horton Bluff and Windsor and wrote his book "Air Breathers of the Coal Period" that people started to take notice. Dawson speculated that air breathers were present in tidal flats and muddy shores either basking in the sun or to find food during the Coal Period.
In 1966 the bones of a tetrapod were discovered here by a young researcher, Donald Baird. Even today not much is known about these animals. There have been a small amount of tetrapods found in older rocks; however these have all been aquatic.
Two students conducting a hydrological survey stumbled across a very important find in 1964. During an extreme low tide here and at a time when a recent storm swept away overlaying mud they discovered a trail of large fossil footprints. These footprints were discovered about 50m offshore from Horton Bluff.
One of these students was David Mossman who went on to become professor of Geosciences at Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB. Dr. Mossman eventually mapped 27 footprints spanning a distance of 20m. The tracks were deep with ridges around them suggesting the animal was heavy and the mud very soft at the time. They were very large as each footprint was 30cm long and they were spaced 30cm apart. The width of the footprints and the lack of claws suggest it was amphibian.
Their preservation in the Lower Carboniferous rock makes them some of the oldest vertebrate tracks in fossil records.
In 2008 two students from the Landmark East School made an important discovery while on a class field trip to Blue Beach. Charles Veasey age 11 and Laura Trenholm age 12 decided to turn over a rock only to find it was an old fossilized jawbone.
They turned it in to the curators at the museum and it was later determined that is was the upper jaw that once belonged to a giant predatory fish who once swam these water 350 million years ago. It was determined the name of the fish was "Letognathus Harding" which roughly translates to "Jaws of Annihilation". The name seems to fit as this fish was 5m (17 feet) long and had large fangs that were deeply rooted in the jawbone.
These are just some of the significant finds at Blue Beach / Horton Bluff, there are many, many more. It is said that it is almost hard to walk on the beach there and not step on some type of fossil.
The fossils found there are put into four groups - plants, invertebrates, vertebrates and trace fossils. Trace fossils are indirect evidence of life such as footprints, body drags and coprolites. Trace fossils are very important mainly because they tell a story about the animal and a precise time they were there.
Realizing the importance of the fossils found at Blue Beach Chris Mansky & Sonja Wood started their own museum where they shared their finds from the fossil rich area. They researched and catalogued many of the fossils that had been found over eight years.
In 2007 researchers from McGill University in Montreal stumbled across this little museum and right away seen the importance of it. They took some of the fossils back for further research. Once word got out about this area it has become recognized as a world class fossil site.
Plans and paperwork are underway to expand this museum adding a research center along with the displays of the largest growing collections of fossils. from the Carboniferous Period.
Tours are also offered at the museum. Trained guides will take you to the best sights and locations where important discoveries were and are still being made. They will also provide you with all the information you need to picture what life was like back when these animals lived, 350 million years ago.
There are three different tours available each taking you to places where you may find the fossils yourself! The price is small compared to the thrills you will have. Please make sure you call ahead for a tour as timing has to be everything with the rise and fall of the highest tides in the world.
Workshops for all ages are also available at the museum. You can learn about the extraction, identification, cleaning and preparation of the fossils. It is a very time consuming task to uncoved and dig out some of these fossils. Learn how to do it yourself, and then how to clean them and prepare them for cataloging and futhure research. Phone or write to inquire about times and prices for these workshops and remember it is great for the whole family to do..
You will also find a gift shop at the museum full of neat souvenirs. They also offer pony rides to the youngsters and there is often musical entertainment during the weekends. There are tenting sites available.
Take exit #8 to Hantsport/Mount Denson off the highway 101. Turn left to Hantsport, turn right after passing Tourist Info Center, proceed through town until a "Y", then turn right onto Bluff Road. Follow Bluff Road 3km to Blue Beach Road on the right. Follow the signs.
Contact: Chris Mansky or Sonja Wood; phone number (902) 684 9541 . Address is: 127 Blue Beach Road, Hantsport, NS, B0P 1P0. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure to visit the new Blue Beach Fossil Museum Website for more information.
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