Ancient fossils go high-tech

Steve Bartlett
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Codes helping GEO Centre attract people to exhibit of fossils from 560 million years ago

The latest technology is being used to plug the earth’s oldest fossils.

The Johnson GEO Centre is deploying QR (quick response) codes to promote its new exhibit on Mistaken Point, the southeast Avalon ecological reserve that’s considered one of the world’s most significant fossil sites.

People can scan the QR codes with a smartphone to receive information, URLs or data. It works similar to a bar code on a cereal box, and is often used in printed advertising such as The Telegram.

The GEO Centre is placing between 150 and 200 posters and signs containing the codes at various locations around St. John’s.

Smartphone owners with QR readers — apps available for free — can scan and receive a free 60-second video on Mistaken Point.

“It actually brings you to Mistaken Point and from Mistaken Point to our cast, which is in the building,” says Robyn LeGrow, the GEO Centre’s outreach co-ordinator.

“It’s just a different marketing ploy that they are using in other places in Canada and we thought we’d give it a try here.”

The codes went live Thursday.

LeGrow says it’s an inexpensive way to spread the word about an exhibit and catch the younger generation’s interest.

“We’re trying to attract the younger crowd here. We get lots of older people coming into visit. We want kids to come in and be curious about their history, the geology and their home province.”

The Mistaken Point exhibit — a large resin cast of the site’s rocks — has the potential to spark such curiosity.

The fossils it showcases date back some 560 million years and are among the oldest multi-celled organisms ever discovered.

“Mistaken Point is a world-renowned location, globally significant,” explains Keith Moore, manager of interpretation and exhibits.

The same fossils are found in other parts of the world, he continues, but only at Mistaken Point are there so many in one small area.

“We basically have 18 types of fossils living together in an eco-system.”

The deep marine fossils were preserved by volcanic ash, and Moore says what they can tell future generations is unique.

The GEO Centre got involved with the project to make the casts for research and public enjoyment in 2009.

The one it has on display measures 160-square-feet and visitors can highlight the different fossils with the press of a button.

“There’s 150 different fossils in this particular cast and we have about seven different species.”

Moore says the display will eventually become part of a gallery on Newfoundland and Labrador fossils that’s in the works.

“This is a key piece because it’s the first complex life.”

Mistaken Point casts are also being used by scholars at Queens University and Oxford University, Moore notes.

“Scientists and paleontologists can study this and continue their research using a cast instead of the actual surface, and that’ll protect the surface from future degradation.”

He hopes the GEO Centre’s exhibit sparks people to visit Mistaken Point and helps provide them with an appreciation for early life.

“And also an appreciation of the treasures that we find here in the province, the geological treasures and fossils.”

Twitter: bartlett_steve

Organizations: GEO Centre, Queens University, Oxford University

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador

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