Joggins Fossil Cliffs

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Joggins Fossil Cliffs *
Joggins mcr1.jpg
Country Canada
Type Natural
Criteria viii
Reference 1285
Region ** Europe and North America
Inscription history
Inscription 2008 (32nd Session)
Joggins Fossil Cliffs is located in Nova Scotia
Joggins in Nova Scotia
Satellite view of the upper Bay of Fundy region, showing Joggins Cliffs and community of Joggins at centre right.

Joggins, Nova Scotia, Canada, is famous for its fossils dating to the Pennsylvanian 'Coal Age' of Earth history.[1] On July 7, 2008 a 15 km length of the coast comprising the Joggins Fossil Cliffs was officially inscribed on the World Heritage List.[2]

The dating of this site has been debated, with dates from 320 million years ago (mya) to 305 mya being suggested.[3]p39 It is now settled as 314.5–313.4 mya +/- 1.1 million years.[3]p40

Joggins Fossil Cliffs[change | change source]

The dramatic coastal exposure of the Coal Age rocks, known as the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, are continually hewn and freshly exposed by the actions of the tides in the Cumberland Basin. Geologists were first attracted to this locality in the late 1820s.[4] A little later, the first student party studied Joggins in 1835[5]

However, the true fame of Joggins dates from the visits in 1842 and 1852 by Charles Lyell, the founder of modern geology and author of Principles of Geology. In his Elements of Geology (1871), Lyell called the Joggins exposure of Coal Age rocks and fossils "the finest example in the world".[6] The fossil record at Joggins figures in Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and played a role in the 1860 Oxford evolution debate between Thomas Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce.

"Mssrs. Lyell and Dawson found carboniferous beds 1400 feet thick in Nova Scotia, with ancient root-bearing strata, one above the other, at no less than 68 different levels..." Charles Darwin 1859. On the Origin of Species, p296.

Much of the early work to document the fossil record at Joggins was by Nova Scotian geologist William Dawson (1820–1899), who had a close personal and working relationship with his friend and mentor Charles Lyell. Much of Dawson's collection is in the Redpath Museum of McGill University.

Imprint of a fossilized root found near the cliffs at Joggins, Nova Scotia.

In 1852 Lyell and Dawson made a celebrated discovery of tetrapod fossils entombed within an upright tree at Coal Mine Point. Subsequent investigations by Dawson led to the discovery of one of the most important fossils in the history of science, Hylonomus lyelli, which remains the earliest known reptile in the history of life, but not the earliest known amniote. In 2002, Hylonomus lyelli was named the provincial fossil of Nova Scotia.

Trackways are preserved at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs. The tree-like lycopod Sigillaria is preserved in situ.

Recent work[change | change source]

There has been a surge in interest in Joggins over the past 20 years.[4] A thesis by Mike Rygel significantly advanced understanding of the site's history, stratigraphy, sedimentology and biota after the century of neglect which followed Dawson's death in 1899.[4]

Important fossil[change | change source]

A vital early tetrapod fossil has been found here, the earliest synapsid, Protoclepsydrops, which is actually earlier than Hylonomus.[3]

World Heritage Site[change | change source]

In 2007, a 15 km length of the coast comprising the Joggins Fossil Cliffs was nominated by Canada to UNESCO as a natural World Heritage Site. It was officially inscribed on the World Heritage List in on July 7, 2008.[2]

References[change | change source]

  1. Falcon-Lang H.J. et al. 2010. Classic localities explained 4: Joggins, Nova Scotia. Geology Today 26 (3): 108-114.
  2. 2.0 2.1 UNESCO portal Archived 5 January 2010 at WebCite
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Benton M.J. and Donoghue P.C.J. 2006. Palaeontological evidence to date the tree of life. Molecular biology and evolution. 24(1): 26–53. [1]
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Falcon-Lang H.J. 2006. A history of research at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, the world’s finest Pennsylvanian section. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association 117(3): 377-392
  5. Falcon-Lang H.J. 2009. The 1835 Williams College expedition to Atlantic Canada: The first geological fieldtrip by a North American college. Atlantic Geology 45:95–109
  6. Joggins Fossil Cliffs website Archived 5 January 2010 at WebCite
This article is about a World Heritage Site