Nova Scotia is home to a collection of fossils that is helping scientists understand a time period that little had been known about until now.
Fossil hunters are well acquainted with Joggins and its 300-million-year-old deposits on the Bay of Fundy, but Blue Beach in Kings County has scientists excited about the secrets it is finally revealing.
Jason Anderson, a paleontologist and professor at the University of Calgary, said bones have been collected from the site for about 50 years, but the bones were so separate it was tough to know exactly what they had.
"The animals would die, be washed ashore, then would be worked by these waves and that slowly takes the skeleton and scatters the bones," he told CBC's Information Morning.
Metre-long salamander-like creatures
Anderson said it required finds from around the world to help put them in context.
"Slowly over time we accumulated a wealth of information. Discoveries elsewhere in the world, especially the Scottish-English borders region, were able to actually interpret the specific types of animals we had at the beach," he said.
Scientists determined what they'd discovered were metre-long, salamander-like animals that spent most of their time in water but that had four legs, which allowed them to travel on land as well.
Anderson said two time periods that were thought of as distinctive "have a blending together, if you will."
Earlier deposits were of fish and the earliest creatures that were starting to move onto land. The next fossils to be found were full terrestrial animals.
This hole in the fossil record was known as Romer's gap, named after the paleontologist who first recognized it, Alfred Romer.
Time of mass extinction
"That is the time period that the fossils at Blue Beach helps to fill in," Anderson said,
Romer's gap encompassed the time of a mass extinction on Earth about 350 to 400 million years ago, but the discovery of these fossils suggests the types of creatures that survived.
Anderson says not many people know about the Blue Beach deposits and Joggins gets more attention because more is known about them.
"The fossils preserved there are more complete so you actually get, within the tree stumps at Joggins, more complete skeletons which enabled us to talk about the animals in much more detail," he said.
"Blue Beach has taken much more effort to understand the full diversity of the animals we have."
Anderson does expect that to change as more fossil findings shed more light on a time period that was once lost.