Joggins Fossil Cliffs, Nova Scotia: Lots and Lots (and Lots) of Rocks
I don’t exactly know how to describe how amazing my experience at Joggins Fossil Cliffs was. So, I will just say that hands down, I saw some of the coolest shit I’ve ever seen in my life. And thus, I’m going to show you lots (and lots and lots) of it.
This ten mile stretch of coast along the northeast side of the Bay of Fundy is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, internationally renowned for both the abundance and quality of the fossils. For example, the oldest known reptile, hylonemus lyeii – which has been dated to over 315 million years old – was discovered here. This specimen is the earliest known creature to lay eggs on land, which makes her an ancestor of ALL the dinosaurs, birds, and species that followed.
Though the rock that comprises the cliffs were not all formed in the same time period, the oldest date to the Carboniferous Age (also known as the Pennsylvanian or “Coal Age”), well over three hundred million years ago, which is a hundred million years before the appearance of dinosaurs. During this time period, all the land masses were joined in the super continent Pangaea, and present-day Nova Scotia was located right at about the equator. What is now Joggins Fossil Cliffs was a lush tropical rainforest where forests of lepidodendron and sigillaria trees grew to heights of nearly a hundred feet; dense forests of these trees became the peat that eventually solidified into coal.
As I said, there are a lot of fossils here: A survey that was recently done showed that not one square meter of the beach is devoid of a fossil of some sort. The most common are the fossilized lepidodendron trees and their roots (called stigmaria) that proliferated in the Pennsylvanian forest but there is plenty evidence of sigillaria trees, cordaite leaves (which resemble modern palms), and more. Also particularly prevalent is “clam coal” which is actually limestone with fossilized clam shells, fish bones, and corporalites (fossilized excrement). Other interesting finds here include trackways of ancient snails and reptiles, fossilized rain drops and water ripples, and even remains of the animals themselves. One section of the beach, which I was sadly not able to see before the tide came in, has upright lepidodendron trees in situ embedded in the cliff face.
Because of it’s status as a protected natural site, there is a commitment to allowing the natural processes of erosion to continue at Joggins, which exposes and ultimately washes out to sea many of the fossils. While extraordinary finds may be added to the collection, thousands are uncovered and lost each day due to the wave action on the cliffs at high tide. Amazingly, on the short tour, our guide Tammy was able to spot fossils in the cliff face that she casually remarked “hadn’t been there on her 3pm tour yesterday.”
I spent as much time as possible combing the beach below the Centre before the tide came in, and in a little more than two hours I was able to spot thousands of fossilized trees, roots, leaves, trackways, raindrops, and shells. It was mind-blowing. As if seeing and holding something that was alive over 300 million years ago wasn’t enough, the realization that you may very well be the first and even only person to ever see it was staggering. I have had so many unbelievable experiences over the past year and a half, but my few hours at Joggins Fossil Cliffs were singularly incredible and one of my absolute favorite memories from my trip thus far.