A few weeks ago I had mentionned to my friend Matt that I would have loved to find the elusive fossil fish in the Albert Mines area. I had gone a few times to check the area but still couldn't really find anything of interest except a few pieces of Albertite (which I'll describe later). The potential was there, but I just couldn't find the right spots. Matt knew the area well and offered to take me there to look for fish fossils and collect samples of Albertite. So we left on a Saturday morning to go hunting for rock fishies!
There are two reasons why I want to dig around in some of the oldest mountains in North America. The Albert Mines area is composed of many formations made up of dark shale. This shale was the indication that an ancient body of water was here, and the presence of fish fossil does indicate it.
The fish species mostly encountered when you split shale in the area is Rhadinichthys Alberti, an animal that used to swim in fresh water about 340 million years ago during the Carboniferous period (Mississipian, Lower). Also in the shale are plant fragments, another clue that could indicate they swam in a shallow body of water.
Rhadinichthys Alberti (Jackson, 1851)
The other reason is for the "Albertite", a solid substance (bitumen), asphalt. This hydrocarbon can be found in solid state amongst the shale. This substance had become sought after in the early 1850s and was subject in legal battles. Abraham Gesner, the father of kerosene, was fighting the Albert Mining Company over mining rights.
Bitumen (Burger, 2008)
The albertite had been used by the turn of the twentieth century to light street lamps, amongst other things, in cities such as Boston, Massachussetts. The mine that had been opened to extract this black 'mineral' closed down merely 30 years after it had opened.
First stop on the Old Albert Mines road is at the mine dumps. The whole area was essentially used to dump the mine tailings, but have become overgrown with time. The spot we went to was used frequently by ATVs. On the other side of the hill it dips all the way down to a brook. We were able to pick up quite a few samples of Albertite directly from the surface. You have to be careful as you could easily lose your footing due to the loose tailing.
Backtracking a little bit and we end up at site #2. Parked the car on the side of the dirt road, opened the trunk, and took the gear we needed to go rock fishing. We proceeded down the trails leading in the fields. This area hasn't been touched by past mining operations, meaning that the shale outcrops should be undisturbed.
Sign reading 'CDN OXY, 8I-9, ALBERT MINES' (and some bullet holes)
We've chosen an area where a few test digs had been done in the past. Matt recognized the spot where he and others with him had been successful in finding fossil fish. We started to dig and hit our first shale outcrop in only a few minutes. The trick is to be able to find the 'kill bed', where fish would had died (preferably in groups). Matt had mentioned that fish here would be found at about a few inches of each other. Digging for less than hour we didn't find much. Amongst the shale there was the rare plant fragment and a few fish scales.
We decided to try another pit close to a row of trees further down the path. This would have proved difficult with all the roots, as the shale outcrop was not that easy to get to. After successfuly reaching the layer of shale, we found a few scales and a fish fossil the shape of a pepperoni, that had been squished (in a vertical position).
Matt wanted to go back to that first pit we were at as he had a gut feeling that we would find something. He pointed to a spot I was siting at and he said that there's a good chance the kill bed could be located under my arse. We took our shovels and went at work, digging about a foot until we found what we were looking for. The shale had a different color to it, and the scales were very visible.
Suffice to say we had found one of the kill beds as we were able to extract at least a dozen fish. The fish that we found were around three inches or so, but some of the scales were quite large, clues that bigger fish are around but nowhere to be found.
Fossil fish, scales, and coprolite (fossilized dung)
The pic above shows the fossil bearing shale samples I collected. Most of the fish I had found were incomplete, but the one that I did find and that was mostly complete had an interesting form. When I split the piece of shale, it opened up like a book and in it was a fish that was resting on its belly, curved on itself. You could see the spine, scales, tail and its armoured-looking head. The opposite piece of shale had some of the scales and was a perfect mold of the other piece. The two pieces together look like a heart.
Now that I'm more familiar with the area, I intend to come back sometime next Summer. There are more fish and I intend to find myself a complete, and bigger specimen. Till next time.