Monday, 30 November 2020


A very beautiful Lower Campanian block from Haroto, Hokkaido, Japan. This specimen contains an ancient undersea world at a glance.

The beautiful block you see here was prepared, photographed and is in the collections of José Juárez Ruiz. In it, you can see a lovely Pseudoxybeloceras (Parasolenoceras) soyaense (143 mm), Polyptychoceras jimboi (134 mm), Polyptychoceras sp. (114 mm), Gaudryceras mite (48 and 45 mm), Gaudryceras tenuiliratum (Hirano, 1978) at (48 and 20 mm), and a wee fragment of wood (69 mm).

Matsumoto published on the ammonites from the Campanian (Upper Cretaceous) of northern Hokkaido back in 1984, in the Palaeontological Society of Japan Special Series Papers, Number #27.

This was my first look at the glorious fauna from northern Japan. The species and preservation are truly outstanding. Since then, many of the Japanese palaeontologists have made their way over to Vancouver Island, to look at ammonites, inoceramids and coleoid jaws from the Nanaimo Group and compare them to the Japanese species.

Rick Ross and Pat Trask, both of Courtenay on Vancouver Island, collaborated with Dr. Kazushige Tanabe and Yoshinori Hikida of Japan, to produce a wonderful paper in the Journal of Paleontology, 82 (2), 2008, pp 398-408, on Late Cretaceous Octobrachiate Coleoid Lower Jaws from the North Pacific Regions. They compared eight well-preserved cephalopod jaws from Upper Cretaceous (Santonian and Campanian) deposits of Vancouver Island, Canada, and Hokkaido, Japan. Seven of these were from Santonian to lower Campanian strata of the Nanaimo Group in the northeastern region of Vancouver Island. The eighth specimen was from Santonian strata of the Yezo Group in the Nakagawa area, northern Hokkaido, Japan. 

While they were collaborating on identifying coleoid jaws from the Comox Valley, Rick was visited twice by Dr. Kazushige Tanabe who was joined by his colleague Akinori Takahashi. Takahashi is an expert on temporal species-diversity changes in Japanese Cretaceous inoceramid bivalves.

They had the very great pleasure of visiting many fossil sites and seeing personal and museum collections. If you'd like to read Matsumoto's paper, here is the link:  I have a pdf copy of the Coleoid paper from Rick. It has very nice photos and illustrations, including a drawing of the holotypes of Paleocirroteuthis haggerti n. gen. and Paleocirroteuithis pacifica.

Here's a link to one of Takahashi's papers:

Sunday, 29 November 2020


Phylloceras consanguineum (Gemmellaro 1876) a fast-moving carnivorous ammonite from Late Jurassic (Middle Oxfordian) deposits near Sokoja, Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa.

This classical Tethyan Mediterranean specimen is very well preserved, showing much of his delicate suturing in intricate detail. Phylloceras were primitive ammonites with involute, laterally flattened shells.

They were smooth, with very little ornamentation, which led researchers to think of them resembling plant leaves and gave rise to their name, which means leaf-horn. They can be found in three regions that I know of.  In the Jurassic of Italy near western Sicily's Rosso Ammonitico Formation, Lower Kimmeridgian fossiliferous beds of Monte Inici East and Castello Inici (38.0° N, 12.9° E: 26.7° N, 15.4° E) and in the Arimine area, southeastern Toyama Prefecture, northern central Japan, roughly, 36.5° N, 137.5° E: 43.6° N, 140.6° E. And in Madagascar, in the example seen here found near Sokoja, Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa at 22.8° S, 44.4° E: 28.5° S, 18.2° E.

Saturday, 28 November 2020


Kwakiutl First Nations assert, when interrogated, that the practice of cannibalism only became general about a hundred years ago. 

Europeans who travelled in their territory were able to witness many of their ceremonial dances, Moffat, guided by First Nation informant, George Hunt, brought back first-hand information about the customs. 

They say that sometimes slaves were killed for the benefit of Hamatsas — the cannibal members of the Kwakiutl — and that at other times the Hamatsas contented themselves with snatching mouthfuls of flesh from their own tribesmen – usually from the chest and upper arms of well-fleshed individuals.

They vouch for an example of ritual cannibalism which took place near Fort Rupert. A Kwakiutl shot and wounded a slave, who ran away and collapsed on the beach at the water’s edge. He was pursued by the tribesmen, including a group of the ‘Bear Dancers’ and Hamatsas. 

The slave’s body was cut to pieces with knives while the Hamatsas squatted in a circle around them crying out their terrible cry: ‘Hap! Hap! Hap! Hap!

Helpless to intervene, Moffat and Hunt watched the Bear Dancers snatch up the flesh, warm and quivering, and growling like the Grizzly they represented, offer it to the Hamatsas in order of seniority.

The wife of the dead slave was at the time in Fort Rupert, and, like Hunt and Moffat, witnessed the slaughter of her husband, helpless to avert it. But she had a weapon that the white men did not possess: she could throw a curse over the Hamatsas.

I will give you five years to live,’ she shrieked at them from the walls of Fort Rupert. ‘The Spirit of your Dancing is strong, but my spirit is stronger still. You have killed my husband with knives; I shall kill you with the point of my tongue.’

Within five years of this episode, the white men report, every member of the tribe who had taken part in the killing of this slave was dead. In memory of the grim episode, a rock on the beach where the ritual feast took place was carved into the likeness of the Baxbakualanuxsiwae mask.

The tradition died hard. A Hamatsa demanded that another slave – this time a female – should dance for him. She stood a moment looking at him in terror, and said: ‘I will dance. But do not get hungry. Do not eat me!’ She had hardly finished speaking when her master, a fellow member of the tribe, split her skull open with an axe, and the Hamatsa thereupon began to eat her flesh. 

This actual Hamatsa was still alive towards the end of the nineteenth century, and on interrogation remarked, among other things, that it is very much harder to consume fresh human flesh than the dried flesh of corpses that have been left to mummify in the trees and then brought down to appease the Hamatsa’s hunger. 

He also said that it was common practice to swallow hot water after a mouthful of flesh taken from a living body, as it was believed that this would cause the inflammation of the wound made by the teeth. All cannibal tribes, of course, file their teeth to sharp points in order to deal more effectively with their food.

There was a variant of the practice whereby the returning Hamatsa ran riot among the members of his tribe, biting flesh from them. Sometimes he brought a corpse with him – that of a slave or some victim captured and killed for the purpose. He ate part of this corpse after his ceremonial dance was completed, but because this was the first corpse to be devoured by him since his initiation, it was prepared with extra elaborate care. 

One of the most important details was the removal of the skin at the wrists and ankles, for the Kwakiutls believed that to eat of either hand or foot would result in almost immediate death — so definitely taboo. 

Most recently, that is to say at the very end of the nineteenth century, it seems that the barbarous practices among the Kwakiutls had become modified to a very great extent: the ceremonial was retained, but symbolism played a larger and larger part in the ceremonial, replacing the physical act. For example, the late-nineteenth-century Hamatsa did not necessarily bite a mouthful of flesh from the chest or the arm. 

Instead, he caught a piece of skin between his teeth and sucked at it hard, to extract the taste of blood. Then, with a sharp knife, he would snip off a piece of skin and pretend to swallow it. However, instead of swallowing it in fact, he put it into his hair behind his ear, to lie there until the ceremonial dancing was over. Then it was returned to the owner, who was thus assured that a piece of his own skin would not eventually be used to his harm in some piece of witchcraft.

It was, as it were, the beginning of the end. From the horrors of that house on the mountainside in which Baxbakualanuxsiwae and his hideous attendants practised their fiendish rites, the customs of the Kwakiutls have been refined to a ritual dance with gestures hardly more dangerous than mime.

Reference: Garry Hogg, Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice, pp. 70-72.

Photo:; Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer. Qagyuhl [Kwakiutl] village at [Tsaxis] Fort Rupert, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. c1914 November 13. LOT 12328-A

Friday, 27 November 2020


In the Pacific Northwest, slavery and slave trading was common practice recorded for hundreds of years and likely practised for thousands.

The British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. While it was illegal, its practice continued in various ways around the world.

In December 1946, the magazine The Beaver, now published as Canada's History Archive, interviewed Elizabeth Hunt Wilson, who grew up amongst slaves, slave traders, settlers and First Nations on the west coast of British Columbia, when slavery was still common practice. 

She recounted a tale of the murder of the last slave in her village — a man still held as a slave more than fifty years after its official abolishment — in the village of Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

The story holds special importance for me as she is the sister of my great-great-grandfather, William Hunt who married Annie Wilson (Kwagu’ł / Kwakiutl) — and my great-great-aunts and uncles — Sarah Edna Hunt Lyon, Emily Hunt, George Hunt (Ethnographer who worked with Franz Boas), Eli Fredrick Hunt, Mary (who died young), Robert James Jr. Hunt (died as a young man),  Jane Charity Hunt Cadwallader, Mary Hunt (named for the one who died), and Annie Hunt Spencer. 

Elizabeth was also the last surviving daughter of Robert Hunt and Mary Ebbetts — whom you may know as Anislaga or Anisalaga — the All-Mother. 

Robert Hunt had come to British Columbia in 1850 as an ambitious man. He worked first as a labourer, then postman and later worked his way up to run the Hudson's Bay Company's fort at Fort Rupert. 

Elizabeth's mother, Mary Ebbetts was born Asnaq of the Raven/Yéil phratry of the Gigalgam Kyinanuk Tlingit of Tongas and Larhtorh/Larhsail of Cape Fox. She was the daughter of Chief Keishíshk' Shakes IV and his wife, S’eitlin — a Deisheetaan (Gaanax.ádi) from Aan goon (Angoon), and granddaughter to the Head-Chief of Wrangell. She was a high-ranking daughter which made her the perfect bride. 

Anislaga married Robert Hunt of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Simpson at Lax-Kw'alaams 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, including sweet Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was born into a time when Sir Anthony Musgrave was the governor of the united Colony of British Columbia and Sir. John A. Macdonald was Prime Minister of Canada.   

Macdonald, once been tepid on the question of the westward expansion of the Canadian provinces, became a zealot once in power. 

As Prime Minister, he became a strong supporter of a bi-coastal Canada and the commerce that would bring. Immediately upon Confederation, he sent commissioners to London who eventually negotiated the transfer of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada. 

It was expansion into the west that led to Elizabeth's parents meeting and marrying — a binding of two cultures.  

Macdonald wished to secure the colony of British Columbia and ensure his new nation had a Pacific outlet. Both Fort Victoria (est. 1843) and Fort Rupert (est. 1849-51) — were central to these plans. Once the fort was established, 600-700 First Nations from more than twenty lineages lived near the site. Once smallpox washed through the community, that number was closer to 300-350. 

Robert Hunt, now factor, and Anislaga left Fort Rupert in 1868 to run the Fort Simpson site for the HBC. They returned to Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert in 1872 in time to give birth to their daughter, Jane Charity in 1873.

Anislaga's Chilkat Naaxein woven for William Hunt
A few years earlier, in 1870, while Anislaga, Elizabeth's mother was giving birth to Elizabeth in Fort Simpson and during the first months of her young life, negotiations were being conducted to bring British Columbia into the Confederation. 

This was at a time when cannibalism, as part of slave or child sacrifices, was still common practice.

The politics of the rest of Canada were unknown to her as she worked and played as a young girl. Elizabeth grew up in the remote, windswept village of Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, a community built above the clam filled tidal flats in Beaver Cove eleven kilometres south of Port Hardy. It was my home as a girl and I think back on my childhood there with great fondness and try to imagine it when Elizabeth was a girl. 

Growing up, the only thing that remained of the old Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) fort was the old chimney and the graveyard a wee bit further south of the main fort site. I grew up beside the graveyard and spent many happy days playing amongst their long lost souls.

The fort site is just up the hill past the main reserve as you head south. Most of the fort was destroyed in the early 1940s. When Elizabeth was a girl, she knew the fort during its heyday — a trading shop, offices,  kitchens, living quarters, blacksmith, hardens and livestock pens filled its high walls. 

The area was established as much for the fur trade as it was for the local coal mining deposits. The fort was built in a military fashion with an eighteen-foot wooden palisade, both inner and outer gates — naively built from green wood — and metal cannons. The fort was the centre of trade and many tales of local conflict — both settler and First Nation.

Local Kwakiutl warriors took shelter within its walls to guard against marauding braves. Robert and Anislaga had run a thriving business, but that slowly declined. A fire took four of the houses and one life in 1868 — foreshadowing its demise as an HBC fort. 

Her father, Robert Hunt, my great-great-great-grandfather, purchased it from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1873. 

Elizabeth also spent time in Alert Bay and twenty years up in Rivers Inlet with her husband Daniel Wilson, a hale Scot who loved the west coast and First Nation traditions. She witnessed and heard stories of Haida raids on the Tsimshian First Nation near Prince Rupert and Alaska's Annette Islands and Coast Salish along the coast of Vancouver Island and British Columbia — capturing slaves and seizing valuable goods to bring home to Haida Gwaii in the hold of their large and skillfully built red cedar war canoes imbued with spirits — each act fomenting retaliation by the First Nation clans targeted. 

Haida canoes were the perfect fishing and raiding crafts. They were hewn from a single carefully chosen red cedar, felled in the fall. The wood would be prepared by burning and carved over the winter into a dugout that paddled true and could hold as many as 40 warriors.

When Elizabeth was eight or nine, a year or two after the Indian Act of 1876 was enacted, some warriors of the Cowichan First Nations captured and killed the sister of a Kwagu’ł Chief at Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert. 

The Chief's wife had brothers who were incensed by the slaughter and planned their own. They paddled down to the Cowichan village, killed four Cowichan First Nation warriors. Vanquished, the brothers returned home, their canoe held the body of their murdered sister and four dismembered heads of the Cowichan First Nation mounted on spears — the only witnesses to their vengeance. A funeral was prepared to honour their lost sibling. A Cowichan woman who had been captured as a slave was dressed in finery and brought to the mortuary tree where the sister's remains were to be interned. Gifts were bestowed upon her for her journey to the burial site and once there, she was shot and killed.  

The banning of the potlatch by Canadian law came into effect in 1884. A few years after the ban, when she was twenty, one of her sisters told her of a potlatch held by a Chief of the Kwagu’ł that her sister had attended. Potlatches take time to prepare for as the lineage Chief would consult with the oldest members of the household group and everyone would be involved. Though the ban had come into effect, preparations would have been well underway and the date already set.

Part of those preparations was the amassing of food and gifts for those invited as guests. Ceremonial pieces would be carved, Coppers polished and plans for what to give — or what to destroy — as the outright destruction of property is the ultimate mark of rank. One of the most valuable items you could destroy as part of your property was slaves.   

The Kwakiutl had Hamastas, members chosen to embody the ancient cannibals of their ancestors and act out ritualized cannibalism, most often at potlatch celebrations. These ritualistic dances are passed down through the lineage and are still practised today.

Although it was long past the time when slavery had been formally outlawed, slavery was still practised along the coast and the last slave held by the Kwakiutl First Nations was serving at the celebrations. His master, the son of a Chief, stabbed him to death in a frenzy at the close of a potlatch. He would later serve jail time for the murder but come home fluent in English and well-thought-of by his peers for the adventures he had been on and for the great wealth he had dispatched, both in blankets and gifts and by the ultimate offering — the killing of a slave.

Elizabeth Hunt Wilson's husband was the accountant at one of the canneries in Rivers Inlet — possibly the Beaver Cannery. Alec Spencer would meet her when she came to Port Hardy on the Union Steamship. She would descend the vessel in her Hudson's Bay Company coat looking grand. Elizabeth Hunt Wilson fondly remembered as Aunt Lizzie died in 1954. The Vancouver Province ran a front line headline, "Fourth Coffin Ready, Aunt Lizzie Dies," to mark her departure. 

Elizabeth Hunt Wilson passed away as a widow with no children. She was an independent spirit. She kept a casket she was buried in was kept in her basement. Before she passed, Aunt Lizzie gave her casket to family members that had passed. This happened three times. Folk like Sally McMahon and Dusty would play funeral, taking turns being the departed while others sang hymns. When Aunt Lizzie passed Dusty inherited her house. 

References: The Beaver Magazine, Issue: December 1946. 

Note: The Beaver magazine was founded and published, during eras shaped by colonialism. Concepts such as racial, cultural, or gender equality were rarely, if ever, considered by the magazine or its contributors. In earlier issues, you find comments and terms now considered to be derogatory. It was originally published by the Hudson's Bay Company and is not partially funded by them and published by Canada’s History Society as Canadas History. /

Photo One: The Beaver, 1946. Elizabeth Hunt Wilson (1870-1854). Her First Nation name at Fort Rupert was Whale-swimming-by or Tlahlemdalaokwaw; at 'Ya̱lis, Alert Bay, Cormorant Island amongst the 'Na̱mg̱is First Nation her name was Thunderbird or Kunkwunkulegye.

Elizabeth is wearing a Chilkat blanket woven for her by her mother, a Master Tlingit Weaver. Anislaga made a blanket for each of her children. The spruce root hat she is holding is of Kwakiutl design. Elizabeth called her mother Anain — and that she was born with the name Ansnaq — though is often called Anislaga or Anisalaga.

Photo Two: Chimney at the Hudson's Bay Fort, Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, British Columbia. City of Vancouver Archives.

Note: Robert Hunt (1828-1893) and Mary Ebbetts (1823-1919). They had eleven children, seven daughters and four sons: Elizabeth Hunt (1870-1954; married Wilson), Emily (1852-1922), George (1864-1932), William (1866-1952), Eli Fredrick (1867-1936), Sarah Edna (1871-1948), Mary (1854-; who died young), Robert James Jr. (1874-1896; died a young man), Jane Charity (1873-1940; married Cadwalader), Mary (named for the one who died), and Annie (1856-1924; married Spencer — and had several children: Ann, Roy, Calvin, Allan, Stevens, Norman).

Note: Those living in Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, British Columbia refer to themselves as Kwagu’ł, Kwakiutl or Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala. The term Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw is relatively recent in the lexicon and useful as a catchword for all the various Kwakwala speaking groups who were amalgamated from roughly twenty-five-plus local clans, each aligned to a singular familial Chief. Edward Curtis often labelled his photos Qagyuhl for his interpretation of Kwagu’ł.


The Story Box:

Wednesday, 25 November 2020


Chilkat Blanket woven by Anisalaga
Anis'laga / Anisalaga / Ansnaq / Anéin / A'naeesla'ga / Mary Ebbets Hunt held many names. 

She belonged to the Raven/Yéil phratry of the Gigalgam Kyinanuk Tlingit of Tongass / Larhtorh/Larhsail at Cape Fox. Anisalaga is the blood that binds all the Hunts on the West Coast of British Columbia. Her sister belonged to the Wolf/Gooch moiety. 

​They were both descendants of Chief Keishíshk' Shakes IV (her father), whose wife was S’eitlin, a Deisheetaan, a clan of the Raven moiety whose principal crest is the Beaver/S'igeidí (Gaanax.ádi) (her mother) from Aan goon (Angoon) and the Head-Chief of Wrangell (her grandfather).

At the time of her birth in 1823, life was very different in Tongass, Alaska. Ansnaq 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 Tlingit tradition. A painter was engaged to create a Naaxein pattern board behind where she worked. A female elder described the figures as they were being painted.

Without looking, Anisalaga would reproduce them into her own Naaxein work. This might be a Raven/Yéil, paired on each side, the Killer Whale/Dakl'aweidi/Kéet underneath and a Grizzly-Bear/Xóots 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 — gathering cedar bark, gathering and dyeing mountain goat wool with bark, lignite, wolf moss Evernia vulpina and copper. 

Over the years, she grew to become a very skilled weaver and Master of the Chilkat tradition — an art she guarded closely but shared with family. She worked in yellow, turquoise, black and white — including an abstract design in the bottom corner that is her kwéiy/signature. 

Chilkat Pattern Board
Ansnaq married Robert Hunt at Fort Simpson at Lax-Kw'alaams on the Nass River. They lived in the north then relocated to Fort Rupert where they had eleven children — seven daughters and four sons. 

Mary wove a Naaxein Chilkat blanket for each of their children. Their second son, William, married Annie Wilson, Kwakiutl, Smoke of the World, and together they had (Robert) Vivian Hunt, my great grandfather. 

​Anisalaga brought Tlingit songs, stories and the Chilkat weaving tradition from the north to the coast. 

Through the Ravens of Tongass, her marriage and move to Fort Rupert she brought Kyinanuk totem pole carving traditions to both Fort Rupert and the Namgis of Alert Bay — influencing the use of the Thunderbird, the Raven, the Sun, the Cannibal Ts'o'noqoa, the double-headed serpent of the Sisiutl and the Sea-Lion.

A replica of Anisalaga's (du tláa) mother's Tongass pole — erected on her mother's grave at Tongass, southern Alaska — was raised in Tsaxis, Fort Rupert as a visual symbol that the Hunt family equally honoured both Tlingit and Kwakwaka'wakw.   

Doug Henderson and Elizabeth Alberta Hunt
The Hunts you meet on the west coast are her descendants and my family. 

In 1992, Uncle Hutch Hunt, Auntie Gloria, Uncle Bill Hunt, Irene Hayman, cousins Lily Alfred, Leslie Hunt, Corrine Hunt with Wayne Alfred Hunt & William Wasden went to Ketchikan to visit Chief Shaiks Jonathan DeWitt (Uncle Cookie). They enjoyed a feast at the home of Forestt DeWitt. 

​In 1992 and 2013, potlatches/ku.éex' were held for the descendants of Anis'laga & Robert Hunt — now more than 1,200 hundred strong. Our beautiful cousins from Alaska including Chris Makua and J.K. Samuels and his sister Louise came for the 1992 feast.   

Photo One: A Tlu'walahu Costume — Qagyuhl, Vintage original photogravure, 1914, Edward S. Curtis of a Chilkat blanket naaxein woven by Master Tlingit Weaver, Anisalaga, the All-Mother, Mary Ebbetts. 

Photo Two: A Chilkat Pattern Board

Photo Three: Uncle Doug Henderson and my wee sweet little grandmother, Elizabeth Alberta Hunt Henderson (gosh, she was such a cutie) at a Potlatch in Tsaxis in 1992.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020


This little cutie is a hermit crab and he is wearing a temporary home borrowed from one of our mollusc friends. 

His body is a soft, squishy spiral that he eases into the perfect size shell time and time again as he grows. 

His first choice is always the empty shell of a marine snail but will get inventive in a pinch — nuts, wood, serpulid worm tubes, aluminium cans or wee plastic caps. 

They are inventive, polite and patient. 

You see, a hermit crabs' desire for the perfect bit of real estate will have them queueing beside larger shells — shells too large for them — to wait upon a big hermit crab to come along, discard the perfect home and slip into their new curved abode. This is all done in an orderly fashion with the hermit crabs all lined up, biggest to smallest to see who best fits the newly available shell. 

There are over 800 species of hermit crab — decapod crustaceans of the superfamily Paguroidea. Their lineage dates back to the Jurassic, 200 million years ago. Their soft squishy, weakly calcified bodies do not fossilize all that often but when they do the specimens are spectacular. Think of all the species of molluscs these lovelies have had a chance to try on — including ammonites — and all the shells that were never buried in sediment to become fossils because they were harvested as homes.  

On the shores of British Columbia, Canada, the hermit crab I come across most often is the Grainyhand hermit crab, Pagurus granosimanus

These wee fellows have tell-tale orange-brown antennae and olive green legs speckled with blue or white dots. 

In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, of the Pacific Northwest, a shell is known as x̱ala̱'is and gugwis means house on the beach. 

I do not know the Kwak’wala word for a hermit crab, so I will think of these cuties as x̱ala̱'is gugwis — envisioning them finding the perfect sized shell on the surf worn shores of Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, Vancouver Island. 

Monday, 23 November 2020


Weyla (Nielsen, 1963) New York Canyon, Nevada
A lovely example of the large bivalve, Weyla (Nielsen, 1963), from the earliest known Jurassic Ferguson Hill Member (Hettangian and Sinemurian) of the Sunrise Formation in the New York Canyon area of west-central Nevada, USA.

The end-Triassic mass extinction was global, severe, and accompanied by worldwide disturbance to carbonate ramp and platform sedimentation. We see the effects played out in the Ferguson Hill Member of the Sunrise Formation. These outcrops are the result of the earliest known Jurassic carbonate ramp produced in the back-arc basin along NE Panthalassa following the extinction event to determine the biotic constituents and timing of local ecological recovery.

The Ferguson Hill Member (Hettangian and Sinemurian) of the Sunrise Formation in the New York Canyon area of west-central Nevada, USA has a lovely counterpart in the Rockies of British Columbia, Canada, explored over three field seasons in the early 2000s before being closed off as a provincial park.

In the Hettangian, post-extinction biosiliceous sedimentation extended to the inner ramp, where an ooid and grapestone shoal marked the outermost extent of a narrow belt of carbonate sedimentation. An early recovery phase in the late Hettangian is characterized by widespread, laterally homogeneous, demosponge-dominated level-bottom sedimentation across the mid- to inner-ramp, in addition to limited trophic tiering (sessile epifaunal suspension-feeding and mobile infaunal deposit-feeding), substantial ramp aggradation, and poor settling conditions for competitive benthic colonizers (e.g., corals, crinoids, infaunal bivalves).

Within 1.6–2 Myr after the extinction (in the early Sinemurian), a late recovery phase is recognized by the appearance of epifaunal grazers (gastropods, echinoids) and suspension feeders (crinoids, solitary scleractinian corals), phototrophic microbialites (oncoids, and possibly photosymbionts within corals), and infaunal deposit or suspension feeders (bivalves).

Although the late recovery faunas included more trophic levels than pre-extinction carbonate ramp habitats, development and progradation of the first Jurassic carbonate ramp still relied heavily on sponge, microbialite, and abiotic mineralization.

Sunday, 22 November 2020


The entrance to the Pliensbachian-Toarcian localities at Joker Peak and Mina Peak Members of the Sunrise Formation, Nevada, USA.

The Jurassic ammonites of this section were first studied by Dr. Paul Smith, past Chair of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of British Columbia and more recently by Andrew Caruthers et al.

Caruthers and his team took a goodly look at the Early Jurassic coral fauna. It is nice to see the other marine invertebrates getting the attention they deserve. Caruthers is an interesting cat. He uses a combination of invertebrate palaeontology and isotope geochemistry to ponder the effects of paleoclimate change and mass extinction. He has turned his eye in recent years to the Paleozoic of the Michigan Basin AND he's based in Kalamazoo, MI. Yep, Kalamazoo.

Others have taken up the mantle of discovery from these sites. Pengfei Hou did his 2014 Masters thesis comparing the Sinemurian (Early Jurassic) stratigraphic sections of Last Creek, British Columbia and Five Card Draw, Nevada including a detailed taxonomic study from the Involutum Zone to the lower part of the Harbledownense Zone of the Sinemurian.

Saturday, 21 November 2020


A tasty ichthyosaur block with three distinct vertebrae and some ribs just peeking out. You can see the edges of the ribs nicely outlined against the matrix of this lovely articulated block. This beauty is but one piece of a complete ichthyosaur found in situ in Middle Triassic (Anisian/Ladinian) outcrops in the West Humboldt Mountains, Nevada.

Ichthyosaurs are an extinct order of marine reptiles from the Mesozoic era. They evolved from land-dwelling, lung-breathing reptiles, they returned to our ancient seas and evolved into the fish-shaped creatures we find in the fossil record today.

They were visibly dolphin-like in appearance but seem to share some other qualities as well. These lovelies were warm-blooded and used their colouration as camouflage. The smaller of their lineage to avoid being eaten and the larger to avoid being seen by prey. Ichthyosaurs also had insulating blubber, a lovely adaptation to keep them warm in cold seas.

Over time, their limbs fully transformed into flippers, sometimes containing a very large number of digits and phalanges. Their flippers tell us they were entirely aquatic as they were not well-designed for use on land. And it was their flippers that first gave us the clue that they gave birth to live young; a hypothesis later confirmed by fossil embryo and wee baby ichy specimens.

We find their fossil remains in outcrops spanning from the mid-Cretaceous to the earliest Triassic. As we look through the fossils, we see a slow evolution in body design moving towards that enjoyed by dolphins and tuna by the Upper Triassic, albeit with a narrower, more pointed snout. 

During the early Triassic, 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. 

Friday, 20 November 2020


This sweet macroconch with her lovely oil-in-water colouring is a Hoploscaphites nebrascensis (Owen, 1852). This is the female form of the ammonite that has a larger shell than the male, or microconch.

Hoploscaphites nebrascensis is an upper Maastrichtian species and index fossil. It marks the top of ammonite zonation for the Western Interior. This species has been recorded from Fox Hills Formation in North and South Dakota as well as the Pierre Shale in southeastern South Dakota and northeastern Nebraska.

It is unknown from Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado due to the deposition of coeval terrestrial units. It has possibly been recorded in glacial deposits in Saskatchewan and northern North Dakota, but that is hearsay. 

Outside the Western Interior, this species has been found in Maryland and possibly Texas in the Discoscaphites Conrad zone. This lovely one is in the collection of the deeply awesome (and enviable) José Juárez Ruiz. A big thank you to Joshua DrSlattmaster J Slattery for his insights on this species.

Thursday, 19 November 2020


Euhoplites Ammonite, Collection of José Juárez Ruiz
A beautiful Euhoplites ammonite from Folkstone, UK. Euhoplites is an extinct ammonoid cephalopod from the Lower Cretaceous, characterized by strongly ribbed, more or less evolute, compressed to inflated shells with flat or concave ribs, typically with a deep narrow groove running down the middle.

In some, ribs seem to zigzag between umbilical tubercles and parallel ventrolateral clavi. In others, the ribs curve forward from the umbilical shoulder and lap onto either side of the venter.

Its shell is covered in the lovely lumps and bumps we associate with the genus. The function of these adornments are unknown. I wonder if they gave them greater strength to go deeper into the ocean to hunt for food. 

They look to have been a source of hydrodynamic drag, likely preventing Euhoplites from swimming at speed. Studying them may give some insight into the lifestyle of this ancient marine predator. Euhoplites had shells ranging in size up to a 5-6cm. We find them in Lower Cretaceous, middle to upper Albian age strata. Euhoplites has been found in Middle and Upper Albian beds in France where it is associated respectively with Hoplites and Anahoplites, and Pleurohoplites, Puzosia, and Desmoceras; in the Middle Albian of Brazil with Anahoplites and Turrilites; and in the Cenomanian of Texas.

This species is the most common ammonite from the Folkstone Fossil Beds in southeastern England where a variety of species are found, including this 37mm beauty from the collections of José Juárez Ruiz.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020


One of the most beautiful areas of Vancouver Island is the town of Port Hardy on the north end of the island. 

Just outside Port Hardy further south on the west coast is the area known as Fort Rupert or Tsaxis. 

It was here that the Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Rupert both for trade with the local First Nation population and the allure of potential coal deposits. 

I headed up to the north island this past week to stomp around my old haunts and visit with family. 

The town was much as I remembered it. There have been changes, of course. I lived up on Wally's hill above the reserve at Tsaxis beside the old cemetery. I was blessed to stay with my cousin Valerie Hart and her partner, Ron. Their home is beautiful and the perfect launch point for exploring the north island.

My wee childhood home is still there and I am very pleased to see that the earthly home of my ancestors is well maintained. The cemetery is groomed and cared for but the land surrounding it is overgrown and it took me a few minutes to orient myself to see where things used to be. Where the old Hudson's Bay Company fort and its iconic chimney were in relation to the graveyard. 

I had hoped to spend some blissful days taking photos of the scenery but arrived during a hurricane, quite literally. 

The beachhead here was clocking 120 km winds so I did a brief visit to the homestead, the graveyard and Jokerville then headed home to light the fire and hunker in as the storm blew through. 

Port Harty and Fort Rupert have an interesting history and how you read it or hear it truly depends on the lens that is applied. This has been the ancestral home to many First Nation groups. Mostly they were passing through and coming here to dig up delicious butter clams, roots, berries and other natural yummy goodness. Years before Port Hardy was settled at the turn of the century it was the home to the Kwakiutl or Kwagu’ł, a mix of First Nation peoples from the north coast and part of my heritage. 

Sunday, 15 November 2020


A wreck with tales to tell at Naikoon, Haida Gwaii. The islands have gone by many names. To the people who call the islands home, Haida Gwaii means “island of the people,” it is a shortened version of an earlier name, Haadala Gwaii-ai, or “taken out of concealment.” 

Back at the time of Nangkilslas, it was called Didakwaa Gwaii, or “shoreward country.” By any name, the islands are a place of rugged beauty and spirit and enjoy a special place in both the natural and supernatural world. The enormous difference between high and low tide in Haida Gwaii – up to twenty three vertical feet – means that twice a day, vast swathes of shellfish are unveiled, free for the taking. 

An ancient Haida saying is still often heard today, “When the tide is out, the table is set.” Archaeological evidence shows that by about five thousand years ago, gathering shellfish replaced hunting and fishing as their primary food source. The shellfish meat was skewered on sticks, smoked and stored for use in winter or for travel.

Steeped in mist and mythology, the islands of Haida Gwaii abound in local lore that surrounds their beginnings. Today, the Hecate Strait is a tempestuous 40-mile wide channel that separates the mist-shrouded archipelago of Haida Gwaii from the BC mainland. Haida oral tradition tells of a time when the strait was mostly dry, dotted here and there with lakes. During the last ice age, glaciers locked up so much water that the sea level was hundreds of feet lower than it is today. Soil samples from the sea floor contain wood, pollen, and other terrestrial plant materials that tell of a tundra-like environment.

The islands of Haida Gwaii are at the western edge of the continental shelf and form part of Wrangellia, an exotic terrane of former island arcs, which also includes Vancouver Island, parts of western mainland British Columbia and southern Alaska. 

Brewericeras hulenense (Anderson, 1938)
While we’ll see that there are two competing schools of thought on Wrangellia’s more recent history, both sides agree that many of the rocks, and the fossils they contain, were laid down somewhere near the equator. 

They had a long, arduous journey, first being pushed by advancing plates, then being uplifted, intruded, folded, and finally thrust up again. It’s reminiscent of how pastry is balled up, kneaded over and over, finally rolled out, then the process is repeated again.

This violent history applies to most of the rock that makes up the Insular Belt, the outermost edge of the Cordillera. Once in their present location, the rocks that make up the mountains and valleys of this island group were glaciated and eroded to their present form. Despite this tumultuous past, the islands have arguably the best-preserved and most fossil-rich rocks in the Canadian Cordillera, dating from very recent to more than 200 million years old. 

The fossils found in the Triassic rock of Wrangellia are equatorial or low latitude life forms quite different from those found today on the Continent at the latitude of Haida Gwaii. This suggests those rocks were in the equatorial region during the Late Triassic, just over 200 million years ago. 

The Lower Jurassic ammonite faunas found at Haida Gwaii are very similar to those found in the Eastern Pacific around South America and in the Mediterranean. The strata exposed at Maple Island, Haida Gwaii are stratigraphically higher than the majority of Albian localities in Skidegate Inlet. The macrofossil fauna belonged to the Upper part of the Sandstone Member of the Haida formation.

The western end of the island contains numerous well-preserved inoceramids such as Birostrina concentrica and a few rare ammonites of Desmoceras bearskinese. The eastern shores are home to unusual ammonite fauna in the finer grained sandstones. Here we find the fossils as extremely hard concretions while others were loose in the shale. Species include Anagaudryceras sacya and Tetragonites subtimotheanus. A large whorl section of the rare Ammonoceratites crenucostatus has also been found here. The ammonites, Desmoceras; Brewericeras hulenense; Cleoniceras perezianum, Douvelliceras spiniferum are all found in Lower Cretaceous, Middle Albian, Haida Formation deposits.

Friday, 13 November 2020


Douvelliceras spiniferum, Cretaceous Haida Formation
The islands of Haida Gwaii lay at the western edge of the continental shelf due west of the central coast of British Columbia. 

They form Wrangellia, an exotic tectonostratigraphic terrane that includes Vancouver Island, parts western British Columbia and Alaska.

The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) sponsored many expeditions to these remote islands and has produced numerous reference papers on this magnificent terrain, exploring both the geology and palaeontology of the area.

Joseph Whiteaves, the GSC's chief palaeontologist in Ottawa, published a paper in 1876 describing the Jurassic and Cretaceous faunas of Skidegate Inlet, furthering his reputation globally as both a geologist and palaeontologist.

The praise was well-earned and foreshadowed his significant contributions to come. Sixteen years later, he wrote up and published his observations on a strange Mount Stephen fossil that resembled a kind of headless shrimp with poorly preserved appendages. Because of the unusual pointed shape of the supposed ventral appendages and the position of the spines near the posterior of the animal, Whiteaves named it Anomalocaris canadensis. The genus name "Anomalocaris" meant "unlike other shrimps" and the species name — canadensis — refers, of course, to the country of origin and my home.

Whiteaves work on the palaeontology of Haida Gwaii provided excellent reference tools, particularly his work on the Cretaceous exposures and fauna that can be found there.

One of our fossil field trips was to the ruggedly beautiful Cretaceous exposures of Lina Island. We’d planned this trip as part of our “trips of a lifetime.” Both John Fam and Dan Bowen can be congratulated for their efforts in researching the area and ably coordinating a warm welcome by the First Nations community and organizing fossil field trips to some of the most amazing fossil localities in the Pacific Northwest. With great sandstone beach exposures, the fossil-rich (Albian to Cenomanian) Haida formation provided ample specimens, some directly in the bedding planes and many in concretion. Many of the concretions contained multiple specimens of typical Haida Formation fauna, providing a window into this Cretaceous landscape.

It is always interesting to see who was making a living and co-existing in our ancient oceans at the time these fossils were laid down. We found multiple beautifully preserved specimens of the spiny ammonite, Douvelleiceras spiniferum along with Brewericeras hulenense, Cleoniceras perezianum and many cycads in concretion.

Pictured above is Douvilleiceras spiniferum with his naturally occurring black, shiny appearance. Choosing my favourite fossil is a tricky business as there are so many wonderful specimens to choose from but if I had to choose, this would be my favourite. This satisfying chunky monkey is 6 inches long and 5 inches deep, and a beautiful example of the species. Missing from this trip log are tales of Rene Savenye, who passed away in the weeks before this trip. While he wasn't there in body, he was with us in spirit. I thought of him often on the mist-shrouded days of collecting. Many of the folk on who joined me on those outcrops were friends of Rene's and would go on to receive the Rene Savenye Award. There is a certain palaeo poetry in that. 

Thursday, 12 November 2020


Looking down at the pebbly sand, you see just the wee top of this lovely fossil brachiopod poking out. Glee, delight and wonder follow as you roll it over in your hands and notice how it differs from clams you may be more familiar with.

Clams or bivalves are molluscs, the second-largest phylum of invertebrates with about 85,000 extant species. While brachiopods share some similarities with their molluscan friends they are in a phylum all their own.

Brachiopods are small marine shellfish that are not so common today but back in the Palaeozoic they were plentiful the world over. The two valves that make up a brachiopods shell are of different sizes and if you look closely you'll see that the hinge runs top and bottom  -- versus left and right like a clam.

Brachiopods had evolved from an ancestor similar to Halkieria, a slug-like Cambrian animal with "chain mail" on its back and a shell at the front and rear end; it was thought that the ancestral brachiopod converted its shells into a pair of valves by folding the rear part of its body under its front. 

New fossils found in the last few years have shown us that the "chain mail" of tommotiids formed the tube of a sessile animal; one tommotiid resembled phoronids, which are close relatives or a subgroup of brachiopods, while the other tommotiid bore two symmetrical plates that might be an early form of brachiopod valves. Lineages of brachiopods that have both fossil and extant taxa appeared in the early Cambrian, Ordovician, and Carboniferous periods, respectively. 

Other lineages have arisen and then become extinct, sometimes during severe mass extinctions. At their peak in the Paleozoic era, the brachiopods were among the most abundant filter-feeders and reef-builders and occupied other ecological niches, including swimming in the jet-propulsion style of scallops. Brachiopod fossils have been useful indicators of climate changes during the Paleozoic. However, after the Permian–Triassic extinction event, brachiopods recovered only a third of their former diversity. 

Brachiopods were especially vulnerable to the Permian–Triassic extinction, as they built calcareous hard parts — made of calcium carbonate — and had low metabolic rates and weak respiratory systems. It was often thought that brachiopods went into decline after the Permian–Triassic extinction, and were out-competed by bivalves, but both brachiopod and bivalve species increased from the Paleozoic to modern times, with bivalves increasing faster; after the Permian–Triassic extinction, brachiopods became for the first time less diverse than bivalves.

Their lineage dates back to the Cambrian with over 12,000 fossil species and 350 living relatives sorted between 6,000 genera. There are two major groups of brachiopods, articulate with toothed hinges and simple open and closing muscles to manipulate their shells and inarticulate brachiopods with untoothed hinges and a more complex set of muscles used to control the brachial supports used to open and close their shells.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020


Florissantia from Quilchena
Highly recommend the tasty paleo goodies shared on the Fossil Bonanza website and podcast. Both sites are dedicated to Fossil-Lagerstätten — the passion of Andy Connolly, a museum educator out of Utah. 

Fossil-Lagerstätten are unusual fossil sites found across the globe. A Lagerstätte is a sedimentary deposit with extraordinary fossils preservation. If we are truly lucky, this includes the preservation of soft tissues in remarkable detail. 

Fossil-Lagerstätten can be formed in a number of ways. Sometimes an animal or plant is buried in an anoxic or low oxygen environment with minimal bacteria to break down the organic material. In this case, decomposition is minimized. 

Even better if the burial happens quickly so that no scavengers can enjoy a tasty snack and the entire specimen is preserved. This type of burial preserves both the gross and fine biological features. If you look at the Florissantia petals above, they look like you may have pressed a modern blossom between the pages of a book. While this lovely is from Ypresian, Early Eocene, deposits near Quilchena, British Columbia, it looks as though it could reasonably have been plucked this year. In the case of Quilchena, the perfect blossom was preserved in a lakebed setting with fine silt that quickly covered and pressed down upon the pedals so that they are preserved here as impressions and carbonaceous films.

The Earth occasionally blesses us with Lagerstätten which can amass thousands, sometimes millions of preserved fossils in stunning quality. Birds can be found with their bones perfectly intact and feathers arranged in a beautiful display. 

Flowers are captured in full bloom — as in the case of the lovely Florissantia above — and leaves look as if they had just fallen from a tree. Even amber-entombed insects have their tiny, delicate hairs untouched. Some of these fossil sites are quite well known: La Brea Tar Pits in California or Dinosaur National Monument in Utah and Colorado. 

Others fly under the collective radar — Grube Messel in Germany or the Naracoorte Caves in Australia. Nevertheless — these sites all contribute vast quantities of knowledge about our ancient worlds and fill in the gaps that would otherwise be empty forever. 

Konservat-Lagerstätten preserves lightly sclerotized and soft-bodied organisms or traces of organisms that are not otherwise preserved in the usual shelly and bony fossil record; thus, they offer more complete records of ancient biodiversity and behaviour and enable some reconstruction of the palaeoecology of ancient aquatic communities. 

In 1986, Simon Conway Morris calculated only about 14% of genera in the Burgess Shale had possessed biomineralized tissues in life. The affinities of the shelly elements of conodonts were mysterious until the associated soft tissues were discovered near Edinburgh, Scotland, in the Granton Lower Oil Shale of the Carboniferous. 

Information from the broader range of organisms found in Lagerstätten has contributed to recent phylogenetic reconstructions of some major metazoan groups. Lagerstätten seem to be temporally autocorrelated, perhaps because global environmental factors such as climate might affect their deposition

I've popped the link here for you. Definitely worth checking out!

Sunday, 8 November 2020


High up in the Canadian Rockies in an area known as Burgess Pass is one of the most unlikely, perfect and improbable fossil sites on Earth. The Burgess Shale sits high up on the glacier-carved cliffs of the Canadian Rockies.

The fine-grained shales from the Burgess were once part of the ancient landmass known as Laurentia, the ancient geologic core of the North American continent, and are home to some of the most diverse and well-preserved fossils in the world. The sedimentary shales here contain fossils that open a window to marine life half a billion years old.

The site is made up of a few quarries and includes the Stephen Formation — Mount Wapta and Mount Field — and the upper Walcott Quarry with its Phyllopod Bed. There is also a lower quarry named for Professor Piercy Raymond who opened the site in 1924.

It is one of the rare locations in the world where both soft tissues and hard body parts have been fossilized amidst the layers of black shale that form Fossil Ridge and the surrounding areas.

Discovered just over a hundred years ago on an unlikely day in 1909 by Charles D. Walcott, the site has continued to wow scientists and the community at large year after year. Charles was in Canada after losing his first wife to a train crash in Connecticut. He met Mary Morris Vaux, an amateur naturalist from a wealthy family and this new love and her interest in the wilds of Canada had brought him back.

Walcott was a geologist, palaeontologist and administrator of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, USA. He was an expert in Cambrian fossils for his time. A company man, he joined the US Geological Survey in 1879 and rose to become a director in 1894.  He served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1923 and was an advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Picture the world at this time. Coca-Cola sold their first soft drink, in Germany, Wilhelm Roentgen developed the first x-ray and it was a year before the United States Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" public facilities for whites and blacks ought to be legal.

So, up and coming Walcott was up exploring in the Rockies and stopped to rest his horse. Always a rock man, he had his hammer handy and split some likely blocks. They contained trilobites and other arthropods now famous from the site.

While he recognized the significance of the site, it wasn’t until 1960 through the work of Alberot Simonella and others that the Burgess received the scientific attention it deserved.

In 1967, Harry Whittington initiated the Cambridge Project to re-open the Burgess files and build on the work of his predecessors. He brought two grad students on board to do the heavy lifting as a means to publish or perish. Simon Conway Morris (Worms) and Derek Briggs (Arthropods) completed the trio and together they formed the foundation of what was to become some of the most significant work of our time.

Imagine the first palaeontologists working on these weird and wonderful specimens. Wondering at the strange and unlikely creatures made real before their eyes. It is a rare and exquisite thing to see soft-bodied organisms fossilized.

Every year, a new species or magnificent specimen is unearthed. In 2011, a hiker discovered a rare fossil of Ovatiovemis, a genus of filter-feeding lobopodians. Picture a marine worm with nine arms waving to you. Yep, that’s him. The specimen she found is now described as Ovatiovermis cribratus and is one of only two known specimens of Oviatiovermis from the Burgess.

This important site in the Canadian Rockies has been awarded protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1981) in recognition of the exceptional fossil preservation and diversity of the species found here.

With countless hours of research and study, we now know the Burgess Shale contains the best record we have of Cambrian animal fossils. It reveals the most complete record of creatures that proliferated the Earth showcasing the Cambrian explosion 545 to 525 million years ago.

It was a time of oceanic life in all its splendour. The land may have been inhospitable, barren and uninhabited but our oceans were teeming with new species. Great soft fine-grained mudslides slid onto an ecosystem in a deep-water basin. Millions of years later, this unlikely event was revealed to us through the fossils preserved at Burgess.

Photo: The view from Burgess Pass

Thursday, 5 November 2020


There is delightful suturing on this lovely ammonite, Holcophylloceras mediterraneum, (Neumayr 1871) from Late Jurassic (Oxfordian) deposits near Sokoja, Madagasgar.

The shells had many chambers divided by walls called septa. The chambers were connected by a tube called a siphuncle which allowed for the control of buoyancy with the hollow inner chambers of the shell acting as air tanks to help them float.

We can see the edges of this specimen's shell where it would have continued out to the last chamber, the body chamber, where the ammonite lived. Picture a squid or octopus, now add a shell and a ton of water. That's him!

They were prolific breeders that evolved rapidly. If you could cast a fishing line into our ancient seas, it is likely that you would hook an ammonite, not a fish. They were prolific back in the day, living (and sometimes dying) in schools in oceans around the globe. We find ammonite fossils (and plenty of them) in sedimentary rock from all over the world.

In some cases, we find rock beds where we can see evidence of a new species that evolved, lived and died out in such a short time span that we can walk through time, following the course of evolution using ammonites as a window into the past.

For this reason, they make excellent index fossils. An index fossil is a species that allows us to link a particular rock formation, layered in time with a particular species or genus found there. Generally, deeper is older, so we use the sedimentary layers rock to match up to specific geologic time periods, rather the way we use tree-rings to date trees. A handy way to compare fossils and date strata across the globe.

Tuesday, 3 November 2020


Secretary Bird, Sagittarius serpentarius
Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park is a provincial park in British Columbia, Canada. Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park covers 23 ha of the Bulkley River Valley, on the east side of Driftwood Creek, a tributary of the Bulkley River, 10 km northeast of the town of Smithers. 

The parklands are part of the asserted traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation which includes lands around the Bulkley River, Burns Lake, Broman Lake, and François Lake in the northwestern Central Interior of British Columbia. 

The Wetʼsuwetʼen are a branch of the Dakelh or Carrier people, and in combination with the Babine people have been referred to as the Western Carrier. They speak Witsuwitʼen, a dialect of the Babine-Witsuwitʼen language which, like its sister language Carrier, is a member of the Athabaskan family.

Their oral history or kungax recounts a time when their ancestral village, Dizkle or Dzilke, once stood upstream from the Bulkley Canyon. This cluster of cedar houses on both sides of the river was said to be abandoned because of an omen of impending disaster. The exact location of the village has been lost. The neighbouring Gitxsan people of the Hazelton area have a similar tale, though the village in their version is referred to as Dimlahamid or Temlahan. Their house groups include the Gilseyhu or Big Frog Clan, the Laksilyu or Small Frog Clan, the Tsayu or Beaver Clan, the Gitdumden or Wolf and Bear Clan and the Laksamshu or Fireweed and Owl Clan.

The park was created in 1967 by the donation of the land by the late Gordon Harvey (1913–1976) to protect fossil beds on the east side of Driftwood Creek. The beds were discovered around the beginning of the 20th century. 

Driftwood Canyon is recognized as one of the world’s most significant fossil beds. It provides park users with a fascinating opportunity to understand the area’s evolutionary processes of both geology and biology. Bird feathers are infrequently collected from the shales; however, two bird body fossils have been found here.

In 1968, a bird body fossil was collected in the Eocene shales of the Ootsa Lake Group in Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park by Pat Petley of Kamloops. Pat Petley donated the specimen in 2000 to the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) palaeontology collections. This fossil bird specimen is tentatively identified as puffbird, Piciformes Bucconidae, of the genus Primobucco.

Primobucco is an extinct genus of bird placed in its own family, Primobucconidae. The type species, Primobucco mcgrewi, lived during the Lower Eocene of North America. It was initially described by American paleo-ornithologist Pierce Brodkorb in 1970, from a fossil right-wing, and thought to be an early puffbird. However, the discovery of a further 12 fossils in 2010 indicate that it is instead an early type of roller.

Related fossils from the European Messel deposits have been assigned to the two species P. perneri and P. frugilegus. Two specimens of P. frugilegus have been found with seeds in the area of their digestive tract, which suggests that these birds were more omnivorous than the exclusively predaceous modern rollers. The Driftwood specimen has never been thoroughly studied. If there is a grad student out there looking for a worthy thesis, head on down to the Thompson Rivers University where you'll find the specimen on display.

Another fossil bird, complete with feathers, was collected at Driftwood Canyon in 1970, This one was found by Margret and Albrecht Klöckner who were travelling from Germany. Theirs is a well-travelled specimen, having visited many sites in BC as they toured around, then to Germany and finally back to British Columbia when it was repatriated and donated to the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. I'm not sure if it is still on display or back in collections, but it was lovingly displayed back in 2008. There is a new grad student, Alexis, looking at Eocene bird feathers down at the RBCM, so perhaps it is once again doing the rounds. 

This second bird fossil is of a long-legged water bird and has been tentatively identified by Dr. Gareth Dyke of the University of Southampton as possibly from the order Charadriiformes, a diverse order of small to medium-ish water birds that include 350 species of gulls, plovers, sandpipers, terns, snipes, and waders. Hopefully, we'll hear more on this find in the future.

If you fancy a visit to Driftwood Canyon Park, the park is accessible from Driftwood Road from Provincial Highway 16. You are welcome to view and photograph the fossils found here but collecting is strictly forbidden.