Newfoundland's Mistaken Point is a snapshot of life 565 million years ago

The Canadian Press
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MISTAKEN POINT, Newfoundland - Surf pounds a rocky stretch of coastline in southeastern Newfoundland where frozen-in-time fossils offer a rare glimpse of sea life 565 million years ago.

The Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve, a two-hour drive south of St. John's, is a treasure trove for paleontologists and global scientists still unlocking its mysteries. The six-square-kilometre site is billed as the best place in the world to see some of the earliest multi-celled life forms ever discovered.

"This is the place where life first got big," said Richard Thomas, who's leading efforts to have the reserve named a world heritage site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

"This is where we see the first large, complex organisms in the geological record."

Life was composed of microbes for most of the estimated 4.5 billion years that Earth has existed, Thomas explained. The fossils of Mistaken Point are considered excellent examples of early multi-celled creatures that draw scientists and tourists from around the globe, he said.

"There's quite an argument about whether these were actually animals or some sort of evolutionary dead end because the vast majority of them don't have any relatives in the modern record."

What's clear is the vast array of imprints still visible on silt stone along the spectacular coastline where moose, rabbits, whales and seabirds may also be spotted. Mistaken Point is named for the deadly tendency of sailors to mistake it in heavy fog for Cape Race at the southeast tip of Newfoundland. Ships turning north too early would slam straight into massive rocks.

About 20 different species of fossils have been documented in the region.

They include: the Primocandelabrum, a rare disc shape with a stem and branches that resemble a candelabra; the Beothukis mistakensis, a detailed frond named for Newfoundland's aboriginal Beothuk peoples; and the Fractofusus misrai, a spindle-shaped fossil named for Indian geologist Shiva Balak Misra.

Misra first stumbled upon Mistaken Point's geological significance in 1967 as a graduate student at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

It's believed that the organisms lived deep in the ocean on the muddy sea floor when this part of Newfoundland was geographically closer to western Africa and South America, south of the Equator. Ash from the eruptions of nearby volcanoes smothered the life forms into the sea bed and has since been used to trace the fossils back 565 million years, Thomas said.

Today, those outlines can be viewed on vertical slabs of rock during four-kilometre guided hikes led daily from the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre in Portugal Cove South. Tourists used to be allowed to walk on a portion of the former sea bed wearing protective booties but access has been limited to safeguard the precious specimens.

Mistaken Point was established as a reserve in 1987. It was placed on Canada's tentative list of world heritage sites — a big step toward making the case for UNESCO status — in 2004. But there are concerns that recent provincial budget cuts trimming the reserve manager's job to six months from 12 could affect oversight of the fossils.

Assurance of adequate safeguards is critical in the complex process to win world heritage status, said Alison Woodley of the watchdog group Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

"There is a requirement that the (UN) world heritage committee needs to have confidence that the outstanding universal values, that a site would be designated for, would be protected in the long run."

Environment and Conservation Minister Tom Hedderson said the province is working closely with Parks Canada on the UNESCO bid and is prepared to review the management cutback at Mistaken Point.

"We're going to cover off on the human resources as needed," he said in an interview. "If it's (required) to demonstrate that we need full-time management and that sort of thing, we'll make sure it's in place."

Thomas said the reserve's history includes attempts by fossil pirates to steal samples using diamond saws.

"The local community has been very good about keeping an eye on the fossils in the past and hopefully we can get a full-time manager restored because the site absolutely deserves protection."

___

If you go:

Daily guided hikes of Mistaken Point are free of charge from mid-May to mid-October. Call ahead to reserve a space: 709-438-1100.

The four-kilometre hike is rated easy but involves some hills and a stream crossing. Hiking boots and windproof jackets are recommended.

For information on the reserve:

http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com/planyourtrip/Detail/11029333

Organizations: UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Memorial University of Newfoundland.It Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society UN Parks Canada

Geographic location: Newfoundland, St. John's, Cape Race Africa South America Portugal Cove South Canada

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Recent comments

  • Richard Dawkins
    July 27, 2013 - 18:19

    I'll try to be short and to the point, but please look up the references for each point for more detail. In terms of the precambrian record – Sharma and Shukla (2009) state that "Although the Precambrian encompasses 87% of the earth's history, the pace of organismal evolution was quite slow." We’re talking about billions of years here, and we’re lucky to get any evidence at all. With regard to the fruit flies, Burke et al (2010) suggested that perhaps there has not been enough time for the relevant mutations to have become fixed. They also suggested an alternative—that natural selection could be acting on already existing variations. This is evolution, despite what the partisan writer Brian Thomas claimed (with reference to another partisan article – not an experiment), as the variation is due to natural selection over a long period of time. In terms of your fossilization example, the point of petrification has already been made in response to your unreferenced claims. In fact, the tree does not exist per se for 1000 years, as you postulate - the minerals are gradually being replaced by harder forms. As another reader pointed out, the conditions are not ideal for this happening most of the time. If you'd like to know more about how the earth is found to be billions of years old type ages of the earth and universe in google and biologos and you will read it in the terms of an evolutionary creationist. In terms of the transitional fossils (or examples), researches at Berkeley seem to disagree with you – In their words, Sarcopterygii (lungfish) fish are clearly transitional from fish to tetrapods. Again, type it in google and you can easily see this. Also, KAR makes some great points. Lastly, in terms of the Ark, Dr. Randall Price, who was the archaeologist on the Chinese-led team in 2008 when this alleged discovery was first made, believes that a group of local Kurdish men trucked wood up to the mountain and staged an elaborate hoax for the Chinese team. As a long time searcher for the Ark and a member of Noah’s Ark Search LLC, he had gone on a number of expeditions to Mount Ararat. Please type in doubt cast on Noah’s ark found in turkey and csmonitor in google to read more on this.

  • bob
    July 22, 2013 - 22:15

    too bad the feds don't come up with the money to build the country's stature in the world.

  • KAR
    July 22, 2013 - 21:35

    We are all transitional fossils. The horses of 100,000 years ago were small. The zebras split off but still can breed with horses but haven't for 10's of thousands of years. Man of 50,000 years ago is different than today, just as in 100,000 years the people that inhabit this earth will be different than us today. Hippos and whales come from the same extinct ancestor...everything for millions of years ago aren't around today. Sure they are similar and might even breed but they aren't the same. Everything is a transition fossil that is constantly changing and adjusting to the environment and opportunities in which it lives.

  • xdfgsd
    July 22, 2013 - 21:34

    John I agree with you. Its kind of disturbing how ignorant someone with so much knowledge can be. I remember reading that Noah's arc story and it was complete b.s. made by people with a clear religious agenda who claim that its fact. They didnt even find a boat, they found pieces of wood that could have been used in a boat (or ANYTHING ELSE) on top of a mountain. And you call people like us stupid, get bent and off your highhorse Roger,

  • Dave F
    July 22, 2013 - 21:23

    evolution clearly doesn't work, just ask my Black Lab, and Dashhound.

    • Roger Foster
      July 23, 2013 - 23:19

      Well, most species have change within the species... but only to a point. Are either one of your dogs growing wings, fins, gills, or another 4 legs? I'd like to see that...

  • Jak Black
    July 22, 2013 - 21:13

    That's the beauty of our society. You are free to believe whatever you wish.

  • Ken
    July 22, 2013 - 21:12

    Roger: Where do you get your information? Actually there are nearly 100 species of fruit fly's. Also, an estimated rock deposit of 1cm/1000 years??? according to evolutionists? Sedimentary rock is deposited around 30cm every 1000 years on average so your right, sedimentation was rapid. Which would only show us a snapshot at that time as this article discusses. This unique rocky stretch was frozen in time due to a volcanic activity at that time. The earths crust is constantly eroding, or renewing due to volcanic activity. Therefore we will not likely find the billions of fossils to study. Can somebody show me this boat on this mountain in Turkey. I imagine it has eroded.

    • Roger Foster
      July 23, 2013 - 23:17

      Here is the boat on the mountain in Turkey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7RUWxK4EW4

  • Biff Lowman
    July 22, 2013 - 21:04

    Roger is either a troll, or an old fart with nothing better to do but spout nonsense. Love how religious nut jobs bury their argument in a rambling block of text too, it's quite amusing!

    • Roger Foster
      July 23, 2013 - 23:22

      ... thy leftist handbook sayeth, "When confronted with an argument that you cannot argue sucessfully, attack he person with the opposing viewpoint instead"... Well done. Che would be proud!

  • Devin the Dude
    July 22, 2013 - 21:01

    Oooohhhh religion..... Roger.... An example of fruit fly evolution wired.com/wiredscience/2012/07/flies-learn-math/ In addition, trees do not just "fossilize". There are environmental variables to make this happen like volcanos/ash/mud covering them, and in turn they have protection, and leech in minerals to make them fossilize. Why is there not more of a fossil record? Because not everything was entombed in a flash of mud/ash or whatever, and there were only certain times/areas that this could happen in such a way. " In addition, Noah's ark has been found in Turkey".... the proof for that kinda fell through the roof and it was not touched on much because there wasn't much proof there or else it would be big news... Anyways...... enough said.

    • Roger Foster
      July 23, 2013 - 23:14

      OK - "petrified", not "fosslized".... As far as the Ark goes... It's the same length to the foot as described in Genesis, when using the Egyptian cubit that Moses was familliar with. The width is right too, when adjusting for the splaying that all old ships do. This ship also has a non-natural layout of cross-beams and supports, as evidenced by the ground penetrating radar used. It is big news: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7RUWxK4EW4

  • christine ballone
    July 22, 2013 - 20:32

    you are saying much worth nothing!

  • carl jensen
    July 22, 2013 - 20:25

    They find the ark every couple of years!

    • Roger Foser
      July 23, 2013 - 23:09

      That is an outright lie. It was found once, and it's still there.

  • Roger Foster
    July 22, 2013 - 18:05

    Ah - Still trotting out the mistaken evolutionary theory in great big buckets... Sorry, but evolution doesn't make sense on many fronts: - The fossil record has shown that the Pre-Cambrian explosion of fossils doesn't show a steady progression of fossils evolving - only a sudden onset of complex and simple fossils in the same layers. - Fruit flies have been exposed to conditions over thousands of generations that should have caused some kind of mutations and evolutions, but never does. A life form can evolve within limits, but cannot mutate to another life form. - The fossil record shows that the earth is clearly not 4.5 billion years old. There are fossilized trees that are intact and 40' tall! At the estimated rate of 1cm/1000 years of rock deposits, this would take 1,200,000 years for these trees to be buried. So, it takes 1000 years for the first cm to be fossilized, according to the evolutionists. Do you think that the tree will remain intact for 1.2 million years before it's buried? Preposterous! Sedimentation happened much more rapidly, leading to a fossil record proving that the earth is indeed a young earth, and there is no way that evolutionists can show evolution occurring in 6000-10,000 years! - Lack of transitional fossils: For all the fossils found, there is yet to be ONE transitional fossil found showing something actively evolving. There should be billions of these, if the theory was true.... By the way, the fossil record also shows that there was a major worldwide flooding that occurred for about 1 year. In addition, Noah's ark has been found in Turkey, far up a mountainside. If GOD didn't flood the earth, can somebody show me how a boat (the same dimensions as was told in Genesis) ended up way up a mountain? Sorry, but this story is using the false theory of evolution as it's foundation. It is wrong.... but politically correct...

    • John Wilson
      July 22, 2013 - 19:38

      How can an individual with the education available in this day and age be so wrong about so many things? I believe is the worst thing happening in our society!

    • Bruce Henry
      July 22, 2013 - 20:30

      Mr. Foster, it seems that evolution doesn't make sense to you but to most of the educated world it does. One can always find reading material to support one's own point of view and you seem to have found the kind of information you are comfortable with. I wish you good luck with your imaginings.

    • Rob
      July 22, 2013 - 21:56

      @Roger Foster .........Wow!

    • Paul Riddle
      July 22, 2013 - 22:52

      Valid scientific arguments. Good read.

    • The Truth
      July 26, 2013 - 20:43

      First and foremost, I respect your right to your views. However, as you bluntly used this term as well, they are mostly "wrong". I'll try to be short and to the point, but please read the references for each point for more detail - in terms of the precambrian record - "Although the Precambrian encompasses 87% of the earth's history, the pace of organismal evolution was quite slow." (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20009270). In terms of the fruit flies, "The study's authors wrote, "In our sexual populations, adaptation is not associated with 'classic' sweeps whereby newly arising, unconditionally advantageous mutations become fixed. They suggested that perhaps there has not been enough time for the relevant mutations to have become fixed. They also suggested an alternative—that natural selection could be acting on already existing variations. " (http://www.icr.org/article/5779/) . This is evolution, despite what the partisan writer claimed (with reference to another partisan article - not experiment, as the variation is due to natural selection over a long period of time. In terms of the fossilization, the point of petrification has already been made in response to your unreferenced claims. In fact, the tree does not exist for 1000 years, as you postulate - the minerals are gradually being replaced. If you'd like to know more about how the earth is found to be billions of years old please see this resource (http://biologos.org/questions/ages-of-the-earth-and-universe). In terms of the transitional fossils (or examples), researches at Berkeley seem to disagree with you - Sarcopterygii (lungfish) are clearly transitional from fish to tetrapods (http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/vertebrates/sarco/sarcopterygii.html). Lastly, in terms of the Ark, "Dr. Price, who is director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., was the archaeologist on the Chinese-led team in 2008 when this alleged discovery was first made...a leaked email from Price – which he confirms that he wrote – shows that he has reason to believe that a group of local Kurdish men trucked wood up to the mountain and staged an elaborate hoax for the Chinese team.A group of Kurdish workers “are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. … During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film,” Price writes in the email.Price is a longtime searcher himself for the ark. As a member of Noah’s Ark Search LLC, he had gone on a number of expeditions to Mount Ararat.Price was not the only member to withdraw from the Chinese-led team over questions about their purported finding." (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-Issues/2010/0428/Doubt-cast-on-Noah-s-ark-found-in-Turkey). I'm sorry, but being politically correct has nothing to do with this. You are just wrong.