A guest post from Douglas Palmer, Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge
Blasted by Atlantic winds and waves, the inhospitable rocky peninsula of Newfoundland’s Mistaken Point was once a danger to sailors, but its role as a mecca for palaeontologists has just been acknowledged by UNESCO.
Already one of Canada’s protected Ecological Reserves, on July 17th, 2016 Mistaken Point was granted World Heritage status, making it the province of Newfoundland and Labrador’s fourth World Heritage Site, and the first anywhere in the world to be inscribed on the basis of Precambrian fossils.
The thousands of fossils preserved in the rock strata of Mistaken Point belong to what is known as the Ediacaran biota. The fossils preserve and record the early evolution of complex multicellular life in the oceans of Late Proterozoic time ~560 million years ago, and provide a window into the early colonization of the seafloor by clearly visible organisms. Importantly, these fossils provide insights into the early stages of animal evolution, and allow researchers to test hypotheses regarding the causes and consequences of animal evolution.
As Dr Alex Liu of the University of Bristol writes “The decision to inscribe Mistaken Point on the World Heritage List is fantastic news for Canada, Newfoundland, and especially the local communities living near the site. The evolutionary importance of Ediacaran fossils will hopefully now become more widely appreciated, and improved protective legislation will ensure these important fossils are managed sustainably for future generations.”