Digging up the past: Filmmaker uncovers P.E.I.'s prehistoric history

An Island filmmaker is looking to uncover P.E.I.'s prehistoric history in a new documentary.

Island filmmaker looking to showcase P.E.I. fossils with new documentary

Island filmmaker William Beckett films for his upcoming documentary 'Prehistoric PEI' in Point Prim, P.E.I. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

An Island filmmaker is looking to uncover P.E.I.'s prehistoric history in a new documentary.

William Beckett started working on his film Prehistoric PEI three and a half years ago, but said his love of fossils spans a lifetime.

"I grew up in Nova Scotia. In the late '70s, early 1980s, I spent almost every weekend at the Nova Scotia Natural History Museum, looking at fossils," said Beckett.

Beckett said his hope with Prehistoric PEI is to not only share his love of fossils, but to highlight a little known aspect of P.E.I.'s history.

A Calamites fossil found in Point Prim, P.E.I. Calamites is a close relative to modern horsetail plants. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"People find fossils here all the time," said Beckett. "We're a wonderful snapshot of pre-history and it's just having the eyes to look for it."

Beckett has been interviewing Islanders with fossil collections, and filming those collections for his documentary.

'The fossils on P.E.I. are sometimes so spectacular'

He's also interviewed experts in the Maritimes, including Dr. John Calder, a senior geologist with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources.

A plant fossil found in P.E.I. sandstone. 'It's like a book of history,' says Beckett. 'With each [erosion], you see something new, and what that something new is almost 300 million years old.' (Nicole Williams/CBC)

"We're both fascinated with the pre-historic record with P.E.I. The fossils on P.E.I. are sometimes so spectacular," said Calder, who himself is working on a book about Island fossils.

Calder said beyond significant reptile fossils that have been discovered on P.E.I., plant fossils can be found from tip to tip on the Island, many of them dating back 290 million years.

"I love them. I think they're really special," he said.

To be released as web series

Beckett said he's about half way done filming, and will finish interviews with local collectors and experts this summer.

Dr. John Calder, senior geologist with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, says fossils like these ones are often describes as petrified wood, but is actually a type of coniferous tree. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

If he can raise enough money, Beckett's next step will be to travel to Philadelphia to film the first and only dimetrodon fossil found in Canada, which was originally dug up in P.E.I.

Once filming is complete, Beckett plans to release the documentary as a three part web series.