Thursday, 31 December 2015


During the Miocene and Pliocene, 12-1.6 million years ago, a diverse group of extinct proboscideans, elephant-like animals walked the Earth.

Most of these large beasts had four tusks and likely a trunk similar to modern elephants. They were creatures of legend, inspiring myths and stories of fanciful creatures to the first humans to encounter them.

Beyond our neanderthal friends, one such fellow was Quintus Sertorius, a Roman statesman come general, who grew up in Umbria. Born into a world at war just two years before the Romans sacked Corinth to bring Greece under Roman rule, Quintus lived much of his life as a military man far from his native Norcia. Around 81 BC, he travelled to Morocco, the land of opium, massive trilobites and the birthplace of Antaeus, the legendary North African ogre who was killed by the Greek hero Heracles.

The locals tell a tale that Quintus requested proof of Antaeus, hard evidence he could bring back to Rome to support their tales so they took him to a mound at Tingis, Morocco, where they unearthed the bones of a Neogene elephant, Tetralophodon.

Tetralophodon bones are large and skeletons singularly impressive. Impressive enough to be taken for something else entirely. By all accounts these proboscidean remains were that of the mythical ogre Antaeus and were thus reported back to Rome as such. It was hundreds of years later before their true heritage was known.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Friday, 20 November 2015

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Thursday, 15 October 2015


This lovely big fellow is Tylostoma tumidum, an epifaunal grazing Lower Cretaceous Gastropod from the Goodland Formation near Fort Worth, Texas, USA. (171.6 to 58.7 Ma)

Thursday, 8 October 2015


George Mustoe of the Burke Museum preparing to make a mould of a palm trunk that once gew in the wetlands that bordered an ancient river.

Sunday, 20 September 2015


A spectacular specimen of the trilobite Erbenochile erbeni. This impressive fossil arthropod shows unusual schizochroal eyes characteristic of the genus.

Family Odontopleuridae, Odontopleurid trilobite from the Lower Devonian, Emsian, 408 to 393 MYA, Bou Tiskaouine Formation, Hamar l”Aghdad Limestones, Taharajat, Oufaten, Djebel Issoumour

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Thursday, 16 July 2015


During the early Triassic period, ichthyosaurs evolved from a group of unidentified land reptiles that returned to the sea.

They were particularly abundant in the later Triassic and early Jurassic periods before being replaced as a premier aquatic predator by another marine reptilian group, the Plesiosauria, in the later Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015


George Hunt, Mary Ebbetts (Ansaq / Ansilaga)
The tiny First Nations village of Tsaxis, or Fort Rupert, lies at the remote northern end of Vancouver Island. 

It was in its idyllic natural harbour that two outsiders happened to meet, Anislaga, Anisa'laga (or Mary Ebbets) and Robert Hunt. 

The daughter of a powerful Tlingit chief from Alaska, Anisalaga was travelling with her father on a trading trip to Victoria. 

Robert was the Hudson’s Bay representative and was to establish a fort to establish the British presence in this important part of the colony. They married and started a family that, in the subsequent 150 years, produced over 1200 ancestors.

Anislaga / Anisalaga, Ansnaq / Mary Ebbetts belonged to the Raven phratry of the Kyinanuk Tlingit of Tongass / Larhtorh/Larhsail at Cape Fox. Raven brings the first salmon run of the year.

Chief Hamdzidi from Xwamdasbe', who married Lucy Omhid, a Kwakiutl, was a Raven of Tongas. Hamdzidi died tragically at sea with several Nahwitti warriors when their canoe was attacked by a killer whale they had wounded.

 (Kanhade Gitaranits) along with Kyinanuk and Anadzurh. Ansaq's sister belonged to the Wolf. They were both descendants of Chief Shaiks, the Stikine and the Head-Chief of Wrangell. 

At the time of her birth in 1823, life was very different in Tongass, Alaska. She led a traditional Tlingit lifestyle while navigating under the rule of Czar Alexander I of Russia. Ansaq was a skilled weaver from a long line of Chilkat weaving Masters — some originally Tsimshian of Wrangel now family through marriage. When she was fourteen, she was put in seclusion according to the old Tlingit custom. A native painter was engaged to put up a painted cloth behind where she worked. An elder woman then described the figures as they were being painted in the manner of old Chilkat design.

Without looking, Mary would reproduce them into her own work. This might be a Raven on each side of the design, the Killer Whale under and the Grizzly-Bear in the centre with faces of other bears to illustrate the Bear Mother story — or include other traditional designs — but always with a central figure to showcase when the robe was danced. She was taught to prepare all of the materials for weaving — gather and split the cedar bark, traditional dying of mountain goat wool with bark, copper and urine. Over the years, she grew to become a very skilled weaver and Master of the Chilkat tradition — an art she guarded from outsiders but shared with family and those closest to her. She worked in bold yellow, turquoise, black and white — including an abstract design in the bottom corners that is her signature. 

Ansaq married Robert Hunt of the Hudson's Bay Company on the Nass River while staying with the Tsimshian. They lived in the north then relocated to Fort Rupert where they had eleven children — seven daughters and four sons. One of their sons, William, married Annie Wilson and together they had (Robert) Vivian Hunt, my great grandfather. The Hunts you meet on the west coast are their descendants. She brought Tlingit songs, stories and the Chilkat weaving tradition from the north to the coast into traditional Kwakiutl country. Through the Ravens of Tongass, her marriage and move to Fort Rupert Ansaq brought Kyinanuk totem pole carving traditions to both Fort Rupert and Alert Bay — influencing their use of the Thunderbird, the Raven, the Sun, the Cannibal Tsonokwa, the double-headed serpent of the Sisiutl and the Sea-Lion.

A replica of Ansaq's mother's Tongass pole — erected on her mother's grave at Tongass, southern Alaska — was raised in Fort Rupert — a visual symbol that the Hunt family had come from the north but equally honoured both the Tlingit and Kwakiutl nations — and looked to mend past conflicts and historical animosity.  

Exactly who was Anislaga? What treasures did she bring with her when she settled in Kwakwakwala territory and where are they now? How was it that she was accepted by the people of a foreign tribe, steeped in their own traditions and sense of place? How did the fort influence the region and how did she come to be the one running it? 

Through interviews of family members, historians and anthropologists, this 20-minute film will answer these questions. Items from personal collections will be revealed, such as stunning engraved bracelets and the powerful coppers that are synonymous with status in potlatches. Museums will open their doors to show intricate blankets she painstakingly wove in the secretive art of Chilkat weaving, an art reserved only for those of nobility. A quest will be launched to locate possessions that have gone missing. Various members of the family will tell their connection to their ancestor with stories recounted to them by their elders. Traditional ceremonies will be conducted to honour her place in the Big House. The beauty of the region that enchanted Robert and Anislaga will be shown in its splendour

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Monday, 25 May 2015

Saturday, 23 May 2015


If you are looking for a wee fossil day trip, then a stroll down to the Capilano River is just the thing.

From downtown Vancouver, drive through Stanley Park heading north over the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Take the North Vancouver exit toward the ferries. Turn right onto Taylor Way and then right again at Clyde Avenue. Look for the Park Royal Hotel. Park anywhere along Clyde Avenue.

From Clyde Avenue walk down the path to your left towards the Capilano River. Watch the water level and tread cautiously as it can be slippery if there has been any recent rain. Look for beds of sandstone about 200 meters north of the private bridge and just south of the Highway bridge. The fossil beds are just below the Whytecliff Apartment high rises.

You will see some exposed shale in the area. It does not contain fossil material. The fossils occur only in the sandstone. Interesting, but again, not fossiliferous are the many granitic boulders and large boulders of limestone which may have been brought down by glaciers from as far away as Texada Island. Cretaceous plant material (and modern material) found here include Poplar (cottonwood) Populus sp. Bigleaf Maple, Acer machphyllum, Alder, Alnus rubra, Buttercup Ranvuculus sp., Epilobrium, Red cedar, Blackberry and Sword fern.

Monday, 11 May 2015


Lingula anatina — a primitive brachiopod 
One of the most primitive brachiopods is this caramel and cream fellow, Lingula anatina

Brachiopods are marine invertebrates with a stalk and two shells connected along a hinge. They are often confused with bivalves such as clams. 

Bivalves have shells on the sides of their bodies. Brachiopods have shells on the top and bottom. As a result, the plane of symmetry in a bivalve runs along the hinge while it runs perpendicular to the hinge in brachiopods. 

Lingula forms are regarded as the most primitive brachiopods and represent the first certain appearance of brachiopods in the fossil records dating back 530 million years. 

Their shells do not have any locking mechanisms. Instead, they rely on complex musculature to move their shells. They are the first known examples of animal biomineralisation — a process whereby living organisms stiffen or harden tissues with minerals. Their shells are composed of calcium phosphate and collagen fibres, characters shared only by evolutionarily distant vertebrates.

Lingulid brachiopods had changed so little in appearance since the Silurian, 443-419 million years ago, they are referred to as living fossils — a term bestowed upon them by Charles Darwin himself.

Photo: Wilson44691 - Own work, Public Domain,

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


Hornby is so many things to so many people. I have avid pottery afficianato friends who go to look through the talented work of local potters. Others swear by the pie. It is off the beaten track and pure heaven.

Sunday, 19 April 2015


One of the most satisfying moments is taking in a sunset after a long days hike. Pure visual poetry. Peaceful, meditative and well-earned. It is a time for reflection on the day, your world, fresh blisters - the gamut!

Have you ever wondered about the colors you see in these moments? What sunlight actually is? Yes, it's light from the Sun but so much more than that. Sunlight is both light and energy. Once it reaches Earth, we call this energy, "insolation," a fancy term for solar radiation. The amount of energy the Sun gives off changes over time in a never ending cycle. Solar flares (hotter) and sunspots (cooler) on the Sun's surface impact the amount of radiation headed to Earth. These periods of extra heat or extra cold (well, colder by Sun standards...) can last for weeks, sometimes months.

The beams that reach us and warm our skin are electromagnetic waves that bring with them heat and radiation, by-products of the nuclear fusion happening as hydrogen nuclei shift form to helium. Our bodies convert the ultraviolet rays to Vitamin D. Plants use the rays for photosynthesis, a process of converting carbon dioxide to sugar and using it to power their growth (and clean our atmosphere!) That process looks something like this: carbon dioxide + water + light energy -->glucose + oxygen = 6 CO2(g) + 6 H2O + photons → C6H12O6(aq) + 6 O2(g) Photosynthetic organisms convert about 100–115 thousand million metric tonnes of carbon to biomass each year, about six times more power than used my us hoomins.

We've yet to truly get a handle on the duality between light as waves and light as photons. Light fills not just our wee bit of the Universe but the cosmos as well, bathing it in the form of cosmic background radiation that is the signature of the Big Bang.

Once those electromagnetic waves leave the Sun headed for Earth, they reach us in a surprising eight minutes. We experience them as light mixed with the prism of beautiful colors. But what we see is actually a trick of the light. As rays of white sunlight travel through the atmosphere they collide with airborne particles and water droplets causing the rays to scatter. We see mostly the yellow, orange and red hues (the longer wavelengths) as the blues and greens (the shorter wavelengths) scatter more easily and get bounced out of the game rather early.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Monday, 16 March 2015

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Saturday, 7 February 2015


There was a large downpour of rain that hit Washington State. It resulted in a huge slide at Sumas Mountain that revealed several large exposures of fossil plants, shorebird trackways and the trackways of the large flightless bird Diatryma.

Many of these finds can now be seen at museums in Washington State. While less abundant, evidence of the animals that called this ancient swamp home are also found here. Rare bird, reptile, and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the soft muds along ancient riverways.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Monday, 19 January 2015


A few years ago, I had the very great honour of having a new species of ammonite named after me by paleontologist, Louse Longridge.

Meet Fergusonites hendersonae, a Late Hettangian ammonite from the Taseko Lake area of British Columbia, high up in the Canadian Rockies.

He looks a wee bit like the Cadoceras comma we find in the Mysterious Lake Formation at Harrison Lake but a wee bit thinner and smaller.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015


There are many fossil sites around Vancouver, British Columbia. Sadly, the volume and preservation of these fossils is far from ideal.

Still, if you are looking for a wee day trip, then a trip to the Capilano River is just the thing. From downtown Vancouver, drive through Stanley Park up and over the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Take the North Vancouver exit toward the ferries. Turn right onto Taylor Way and then right again at Clyde Avenue. Look for the Park Royal Hotel. Park anywhere along Clyde Avenue.

From Clyde Avenue walk down the path to your left towards the Capilano River.  Watch the water level and treat cautiously as it can be slippery. 

Look for beds of sandstone about 200 meters north of the private bridge and just south of the Hwy bridge.  The fossil beds are just below the Whytecliff Apartment high rises.

You will see some exposed shale in the area. It does not contain fossil material. The fossils occur only in the sandstone. Interesting, but again, not fossiliferous are the many granitic boulders and large boulders of limestone which may have been brought down by glaziers from as far away as Texada Island.

Cretaceous plant material found:
  • Alder
  • Unidentified Bark
What you see on your visit:
  • Poplar (cottonwood)  Populus sp.
  • Bigleaf maple  Acer machphyllum
  • Alder  Alnus rubra
  • Buttercup  Ranvuculus sp.
  • Epilobrium
  • Red cedar
  • Blackberry
  • Sword fern

Monday, 5 January 2015

Sunday, 4 January 2015