Monday, November 9, 2015

CANADA’s JOGGINS FOSSIL CLIFFS – Guest Post by Caroline Hatton

Joggins Fossil Cliffs, Nova Scotia: Visitors listen to a guide from the Joggins Fossil Centre

My friend and fellow children’s book writer Caroline Hatton explored the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, on the shore of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada, in October 2014. She wrote this article especially for her friend Charlie, a very young, budding fossil scientist.

Fossil Belinurus (extinct animal)
Credit: Courtesy of the Joggins Fossil Centre
When I visited the Joggins Fossil Cliffs on the shore of the Bay of Fundy in Canada last year, I felt like I had traveled back in time and arrived 315 million years ago, when giant insects and some of the earliest reptiles lived in a warm swamp forest. I wondered, how did a forest full of life become cliffs full of fossil remains? 

Matching cast fossil (left) and mold fossil (right) of tree trunk
First, floods buried the base of the trees in sand and killed the trees. The tree tops broke off, leaving standing stumps. The insides slowly rotted and the stumps became hollow. Flowing water carried matter and left it in layers of sediment, which piled up around each stump. When the sediment spilled over the rim, it filled the stump, like plaster filling a mold before becoming a cast. Over time, the sediment hardened and became a fossil, preserving the shape of the inside of the stump. 

Can you spot the two chunks of fossil tree trunks?
Dead animals, their footprints (tracks), and poop (called coprolites) also turned into fossils. More sediment piled up and buried the fossils deep below the surface of the ground for millions of years.

Then as Atlantic Ocean waves gradually dug the Bay of Fundy, they carved the Joggins Cliffs and exposed the fossils, much like cutting the first slice of a giant cake and taking it away to reveal the layers inside.
Path from top of cliffs to stairs to beach
Inside the Joggins Fossil Centre at the top of the cliff, I saw fossils (like the one in the photo at the top of this page) and learned about them. Then I followed a guide down the path for a walk along the beach where he taught me and the other visitors what to look for.
Soon everyone spotted fossils in the rocks on the beach or on the cliff. Collecting fossils is not allowed, but keeping human-made objects, such as sea glass (broken glass polished by sand and waves) is okay. Taking photos is the best!

Fossil: standing tree trunk with attached root and rootlets
At other places around the world where fossils are found, the fossils of tree trunks, their roots, and rootlets might be broken into many pieces and scattered far apart. At the Joggins Fossil Cliffs the guide showed us a fossil tree trunk with a fossil root and fossil rootlets still attached.

The fossils of the Joggins Cliffs are special because the forest and the animals are preserved as they lived. And there are fossils of many kinds of plants and animals, telling the story of life in the ancient forest. The Joggins Fossil Cliffs are like an ancient book written in stone. They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a treasure for everyone on Earth.

Fossil track of giant millipede
Of all the fossils that the guide showed us, the one I liked best was the track of a giant millipede. Experts think that when it was alive, it might have been 6 feet (2 meters) long! I’m glad I live now and it doesn’t.

The Bay of Fundy is home of the world's highest tides, rising and falling up to 42 feet (13 meters) a day at Joggins. In strong storms, waves pound away the base of the Joggins Cliffs and expose new fossils. Who knows, the next new fossil, perhaps of an insect or reptile never known before, might be discovered by a kid!
Location of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs
Joggins is a small community in western Nova Scotia in Canada. The area was known to the Native American Mi'kmaq people as "Chegoggins" meaning place of the large fish weir, a name modified by French and English settlers to Joggins. Now the town is famous for its fossils.
For more info

See an artist’s vision of the prehistoric forest and more at

Read a scientific description of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs at

Many thanks to Melissa Grey, Curator, Joggins Fossil Institute, for fact-checking this post.

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