Miller Hall Museum of Geology Queen's University Department of Geology W.G. Miller Miller Hall Museum of Geology
Mistaken Point Fossil Assemblage PDF Print E-mail

Fossil Beds of Mistaken Point, Newfoundland, Canada


Mistaken Point is the only place in the world where Precambrian animal fossils are so abundant that they cover exposed areas the size of tennis courts. The arrows show three surfaces, each of them strewn with thousands of spindle-like fossils (see inset on image).

Image © J.G.Gehling 2000
(Click on the image to enlarge)

The Mistaken Point assemblage of eastern Newfoundland is the oldest diverse assemblage of complex multicellular organisms yet described anywhere in the world. Fossils are spectacularly preserved on tennis court-sized bedding surfaces along the sea-cliffs of the Avalon Peninsula. Remains of soft-bodied animals were discovered at Mistaken Point during the summer of 1967 during the M.Sc. thesis research of S.B. Misra of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Misra's extensive website http://www.mistakenpointfauna.com documents this discovery and contains copies of all of his publications on the subject.

Queen's University is currently studying the Mistaken Point assemblage, with several professors and graduate students engaged in studies of the taxonomy and ecology of these ancient organisms. This work is a critical part of local efforts to obtain status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this unique example of early life. Mistaken Point is a protected site, and no fossil collecting is permitted.


Accurate ages for the Mistaken Point Assemblage have been determined by dating zircons (Uranium-Lead method) from a thick layer of volcanic ash that covered the living animals. The animals were buried by the ash ~3 million years ago, making this the oldest known diverse Ediacaran fossil assemblage found so far.

Image © J.G.Gehling 2000
(Click on the image to enlarge)

When Did They Live?

This close-up of a bedding surface at Mistaken Point shows spindle-like fossils preserved beneath a thick bed of volcanic ash. This ash formed from a volcanic eruption that covered the living community and preserved the organisms as impressions on the top of the underlying bed. Zircons in the volcanic ash have been dated at 565±3 million years old (U-Pb), confirming that these are the oldest diverse Ediacaran fossils known anywhere.

 

 

Update: New research in 2002-03 has shown that there are older Ediacaran fossils preserved in Newfoundland. See the Oldest Complex Animals web pages for more information.

The MistakenPoint Fossil Assemblage

Click on the images below to learn more about the fascinating life preserved in the Mistaken Point Fossil Assemblage.

Two unnamed species from the Mistaken Point assemblage, informally known as the 'feather-duster' (top center) and 'spindles' (numerous specimens). Areas of rough, speckled grey-black rock are patches of volcanic ash adhering to the fossil surface.
"Spindles and Feather Dusters"
Numerous fronds (mostly Charniodiscus) and spindles on the main fossil surface at Mistaken Point. The fronds were knocked down by a current flowing from the top to the bottom of the picture.
Charniodiscus fronds and "Spindles"
The 'bush-like' fossil Bradgatia from Mistaken Point. The same species also occurs in Charnwood Forest in central England.

Bradgatia Fossil

An unnamed large 'pectinate' fossil from the Mistaken Point assemblage.

"Pectinate Fossil"

A large disc from the Mistaken Point assemblage. Similar discs elsewhere in the world appear to represent 'holdfasts' that anchored Ediacaran fronds to the seabottom.

Disc Fossil

All images are © G.M. Narbonne, Queen's University, 2000
(except where otherwise noted)

 

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