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Part 1: Tree Extraction At The Joggins Fossil Site (Joggins, Nova Scotia)

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Here's a rare event: the actual legal extraction of a fossil specimen from the UNESCO Joggins Fossil Cliffs, on behalf of St. Mary's University (Halifax, Nova Scotia) in December 2011. Only holders of a Heritage Permit provided by the provincial government can work at the site. This post doesn't really describe the whole Joggins site, but only an event that occured. There will be a future post on the entire fossil site at one point in the future Here's how it went...

[from my blog: http://redleafz.blogspot.ca]

I was invited by my friend Matt to partake in some field work at the Joggins fossil site. He had put in a few weeks ago an application for a Heritage Permit to extract a fossilized tree from the cliffs, still 'in situ'. From the information he gave me, it might be a tree that could be bearing fossilized remains of tiny animals within it. The tree, most likely a lycopsid such as a lepidodendron, would also have some sort of indication that it had been altered by fire.

I accepted his invitation and prepared for this little endeavour. Matt had warned me about the cold, so I was prepared to wear triple tuque if need be.


I drove down to Joggins, Nova Scotia and arrived a little after sun up. Matt had told me that we'd be joined by colleagues of his and that they'd be setting up scaffoldings on site. On exiting the car I had the pleasure to bump in to Steve (with a v, not ph, hehehe) Hinds, a fellow from Fredericton and Matt's current boss. This gentleman was happy to also take part of this excavation and was merrily on his way to fetch some warm liquid to warm the guys already down by the beach.


Brian Hebert (left) and Matt Stimson (right)

By the time I made my way to the site, the boys had already setup the scaffoldings. The tree exposed in the cliff rested on a slight angle, about 2 to 3 meters from the ground.


The tree specimen lies through multiple layers of strata such as mudstone and sandstone, with the occasional sandstone nodule. The tree also shows its transformation and layered composition, presenting some clues of the type of environment it dwelled in. The dark residue present on the surface and within the tree contains soot, the traces left behind from a fire during the Carboniferous approximately some 315 Ma (million years ago). Many trees found at Joggins showed signs of carbonization.

The most interesting and exciting fact about this specimen is that it could contain tiny animal bones. Discoveries have been made in the past, like the discovery of the oldest reptile ever found, Hylonomus Lyelli. This tree and the bones it could contain can help in giving us a better understanding on animal behavior during a change in their present environment, living conditions, and their state of death.

What intrigues me personally is how the animal would seek shelter from extreme conditions, such as approaching flames from a ravaging forest fire. I can imagine animals hiding in hollowed out trees, exposed to the harsh and toxic elements. Some animals would die due to this type of exposure. Others would survive but might be eaten by other animals within the tree. There is also the possibility of animals having survived the fire, but were unable to get out.

The fire could be simply a snapshot of a single distinct layer within the confine of the tree. At a later stage in the tree's life, sediment could have infiltrated and animals would get in, succumbing due to various circumstances.

The trees of the Carboniferous Period were mostly present in thick swamp-like environments, living especially close to water. A river for example could often overflow its banks and deposit sediments, often killing surrounding vegetation. This would bury some trees where an animal could later fall in and unable to make its way back out. This could be one of several scenarios played over millions of years. The toughest part is to figure it out.


Our intended target.. DUH Duh duh...


It was cold. REALLY freakin cold. The cliffs were full of icicles and the Sun was hiding on the other side, leaving us in the shade. One good thing about the temperature is that it kept the rock hard and solid. This was preferable as it gave us a better chance to try to pull the tree quasi-intact, if at all possible. The warmth of the Sun could have impeded the operation by making the sediment loose and making the cliffs unsafe to work at.


Steve and Brian sipping on warm drinks, pondering

After the scaffolding was installed, we took the time to inspect the state of the tree and a way to take it out safely. The expectation they had set was that they would have probably had to extract the tree in pieces, but that they would at first try to see if they could preserve it in its entirety, if at all possible. The major problem would be to figure out how to do so.


Brian, Steve, and Matt came to the consensus that they could do it by shoving woodem boards directly under the tree, wedging it and creating some sort of support for when it was ready to be dislodged from the cliff. The planks would be sitting across the top boards of the scaffolding, with additonal rocks to create as much of a stable base as possible. When the time would come to pop that baby out, Steve and I would hold the opposite end of the boards and HOPE that it would stay on it or roll to a stop on top of the rigging. Worse comes to worse, we had set black plastic bags on the ground to catch any loose rubble that was part of the tree, ready to collect for in case they had to put the puzzle back together.






As the tree was been worked on, our friend Don Reid showed up to lend his support and to make sure we young pups did a good job. Don is a great and important person, especially in these parts. Don is known as the keeper of these cliffs, and his shed behind his home housed many fossil specimens from around the area. It was a pleasure to make his acquaintance.

The guys took a moment of rest so that they could plan what to do next. I went with Don to his place to fetch his wheelbarrow for transport.


Fossilized tree and negative (print)


Matt (left), Brian (center), and Don Reid (right)


View from the stairs


Freezing icy cold water!


Exposed mine shaft between coal horizons (exposed coal seam, left of shaft)


Getting ready for the task at hand

The tree at this point was almost ready to go. It wouldn't take much to dislodge it from the cliff. At the same time we got some extra help with a visit from professor Andrew MacRae.

On to Part 2!

Edited by redleaf101

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Great Report!!

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Thanks! I try to keep to blogging, and leave my buddies to writing papers. =P

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Nice, this is a cool report, love the techniques for extracting...

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my my Keenan have you been busy writing. Nice to see our adventures being shared witht he forum.

Nice, this is a cool report, love the techniques for extracting...

yeah it became a bit of a on the spot improvising as the original plan didn;t work. All turned out in the end though. Had a good team to help witht he work.


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