500-million-year-old fossils returned to N.L.

A multimillion-dollar centre in eastern Newfoundland will showcase 500-million-year-old fossils that were taken from the Manuels River area west of St. John's.
Trilobites taken from the Manuels River area, west of St. John's. (Courtesy: The government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

A multimillion-dollar centre in eastern Newfoundland will showcase 500-million-year-old fossils that were taken from the Manuels River area west of St. John's decades ago.

"Prof. Ricardo Levi-Setti has gone around the world and re-collected close to 16 boxes of fossils," said Gary Gallagher of the Manuels River Natural Heritage Society. "He brought them all back from universities around the world.

"They all disappeared out of Newfoundland and he's brought them back here and we're going to display them."

Gallagher, who spoke Tuesday at an official announcement in Conception Bay South, said $4.2 million will be spent to build a centre near the Manuels River to display the area's geology and trilobite fossils.

Trilobites were bottom-dwelling sea animals that ranged the world's oceans more than 500 million years ago. They had exterior skeletons like other sea animals today, such as lobsters and shrimp. It believed trilobites became extinct more than 250 million years ago.

Levi-Setti is a University of Chicago physicist who pursued an interest in paleontology and co-discovered a trilobite subspecies that he described in his 1993 book, Trilobites.

Levi-Setti and his Swedish colleague, Jan Bergström, found their first specimen of Paradoxides davidis trapezopyge in 1974 in the Manuels River gorge. Other species have also been identified in Newfoundland and Labrador.

When Levi-Setti first came to eastern Newfoundland, the Manuels River area was being used as a dumping ground for everything from appliances to wrecked cars. Levi-Setti and officials at Memorial University in St. John's lobbied the provincial and municipal governments to protect the area.

The result is the Manuels River Linear Park, a protected area, that includes many kilometres of walking  trails along the river and prohibits fossil collecting in the area.

The new centre — to be named the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre — will be built with money from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, the province and private industry.