Nova Scotia

Bay of Fundy fossil dig unearths 25 specimens in Parrsboro cliffs

A "hugely successful" dig along Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy has unearthed a treasure trove of 200-million-year-old fossils.

Creatures buried in Parrsboro cliffs leave hints one of Earth's worst mass extinctions

The fossils Fedak's team unearthed belonged to ancient ancestors of these living fossils, called sphenodons, which are native to New Zealand. (Wikipedia)

A "hugely successful" dig along Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy has unearthed a treasure trove of 200-million-year-old fossils. 

Tim Fedak, the curator of the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro was on the hunt for small bones of lizard-like creatures from the Jurassic period. 

He and his team scoured the red sandstone cliffs of Wasson Bluff for seven days and collected 25 specimens. 

Among those, there were five bone fragments, portions of the skull of lizard-like animals called sphenodontids. The animals are very small, about the size of a mouse. 

Among the 25 specimens collected were five bone fragments, which are portions of the skull of lizard-like animals called sphenodontids. (Fundy Geological Museum/Facebook)

The fossils belonged to ancient ancestors of a living fossil called a sphenodon, found in New Zealand. Living fossils are organisms that have remained relatively unchanged in many millions of years and whose close relatives are usually extinct. The coelacanth is a relatively well-known example.

The spot where Fedak and his team were working is important for two reasons: erosion is constantly unearthing new specimens; and the creatures buried here died after one of the largest mass extinction events in Earth's history. 

Tim Fedak, the curator the Fundy Geological Museum in Parrsboro, searches the sandstone cliffs where small bones of 200 million-year-old lizards from the Jurassic Period were exposed along the Bay of Fundy. (Len Wagg/Communications Nova Scotia)

"Their world had just undergone one of the largest mass extinctions at the end of the Triassic period," he told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton.

"So these animals whose bones are found in this red sandstone along the shores of Parrsboro … they represent the survivors of this mass extinction. 

"By collecting all of the specimens that we can, we're able to establish a really rich record of what survived that mass extinction and perhaps start answering questions about why they have."

Regan Maloney, a fossil lab manager at the Fundy Geological Museum, shows one of the small bones of a 200 million-year-old lizard at the dig site in Parrsboro. (Len Wagg/Communications Nova Scotia)

Scientists estimate the mass extinction at the end of the Triassic period 200 million years ago killed off between 70 and 80 per cent of all species alive at that time.

What caused the Triassic-Jurassic extinction ?

It's believed that the supercontinent Pangea started to move apart. As it did, it gave way to the Atlantic Ocean as the mid-Atlantic ridge opened up. Also, North America and South America started to pull away from Africa and Europe. All that movement caused a huge amount of magma or molten rock to come to the surface.

The magma released huge amounts of gas into the atmosphere, causing rapid global warming that was the likely trigger for this mass extinction.

Feedak said because of the constantly changing landscape there is always potential for exciting discoveries along the sandstone cliffs of Parrsboro. 

He said he's especially excited by the prospect of finding more bones belonging to a small meat-eating dinosaur. So far, just the tip of the creature's snout has been found. 

Fedak said he's especially excited by the prospect of finding more bones belonging to a small meat-eating dinosaur. So far, as pictured, just the tip of the creature's snout has been found. (Len Wagg/Communications Nova Scotia)

About the Author

Cassie Williams

Reporter/Editor

Seasick marine biologist, turned journalist. I live in Halifax. I can be reached at cassandra.williams@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton