Someone searching the Maritimes for nice articulated plants would ususally end up being referred to known fossil localities in Nova Scotia such as Sydney, Cape Breton. The ferns and other flora found in the coal rich cliffs of Cape Breton are of exceptional quality, but what if I tell you that there's a location in New Brunswick that yields specimens that matches in quality?
This province has made many contributions to the field of geology and paleontology since Mitchell and Gesner in the 1850s and the days of the Stonehammer Club. There had been a lull for decades, but with the surging in geotourism and the newly founded Stonehammer Geopark, new research has been made on old and new sites alike. One such site is located in Clifton.
Rule of thumb here is that West of Bathurst the rocks get older, and younger East. The sedimentary rocks at Clifton are pretty much around the same time period, late in the Carboniferous (~310 to 300 Mya), matching paleoenvironment.
Clifton, New Brunswick (circled in red)
As my list of grew longer, Clifton stayed on top of it. When Matt called me and asked if I had any plans that weekend, I suggested that we could head up North. He hasn't been in tha area either, so this was the perfect opportunity to go snoop around.
We left Moncton Saturday morning and headed North for Bathurst. The car ride to reach Clifton took a little over 2 hours. Reaching Bathurst, we took Highway 11 and proceeded North-East. We passed Clifton to get to Stonehaven where there is a road leading to a wharf. I parked the car, got the gear ready, and went down the rocks forming a breakwater to get to the beach. It was a bit tricky and the tide had just started going out.
Facing South-West, towards Clifton
Facing North-East, towards Stonehaven
We barely set foot on the beach that we came across these beauties. These tracks were probably made by an arthropod, most likely from a horseshoe crab (limulids). What's interesting is how these animals moved (seems to be more than one animal making these traces in the silty material). We'll have to look further into this, but its obvious that this paleoenvironment was influenced by some sort of salt water body, if these animals were indeed ocean dwelling organisms.
Parallel prints with tail drag
We carried on and stopped at a few easy accessible spots before having to crawl and tread carefully around slippery seaweed covered rocks.
After a few slips, bruises, bloody scratches, and wet boots, we made it to where we wanted to be. The cliffs are somewhat similar to other familiar sites such as Joggins in Nova Scotia. The strata of sedimentary rock have a marginal inclination of about 5 degrees. What surprised us was that we found some trees in situ, popping out from the cliffs. Several trees we've seen were pretty well preserved, and a couple up to a meter in diameter.
Matt kneeling beside a big tree!
Checking for trackways
Within these cliffs are gorgeous ferns and other type of plants belonging to the Carboniferous Period. The plants are found on a light gray shale. There are sections of the cliffs that have talus piled up with lots of plant material.
Clifton is an interesting site and may yet yield really important information that could form a more detailed picture of the paleoenvironment of the region. The plants, the trees, the terrain, the bodies of water dominating the landscape, and the animals leaving their traces. The information that we were able to gather that day will be shared with the rest of the community.
Clifton has come up a few times in scientific literature, but has like most part New Brunswick, been understudied. We realize that the resources aren't always available, so people like me and you can be the foot soldiers and help the academic community by making these type of discoveries like we did today.
Till next time. Cheers!