The Making of Mistaken Point UNESCO World Heritage Site, Newfoundland, Canada

4 April 2019

Rountree Room - L3, Room 356 Biolink

Professor Guy Narbonne
Queen's University

Mistaken Point is a globally significant Ediacaran fossil site in SE Newfoundland that was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016.  Mistaken Point is one of only 16 World Heritage sites based exclusively on geological attributes, and additionally was the first Precambrian fossil site anywhere in the world to achieve UNESCO World Heritage status.  The fossil impressions of Ediacaran fossils at Mistaken Point predate the beginning of skeletal life in the Cambrian and the famous Cambrian fossils of the Burgess Shale by 30–60 million years, and mark a critical milestone in Earth history “when life got big” 570 million years ago after three billion years of mostly microbial evolution.  Mistaken Point organisms lived on the deep-sea floor, and were killed and preserved in exceptional detail when they were catastrophically covered by beds of volcanic ash.  Each layer of ash created an “Ediacaran Pompeii” of literally thousands of Ediacaran fossils that are easily visible and available for study on the tops of the mudstone beds.  Mistaken Point fossils range up to nearly two meters long and contains the world’s oldest-known examples of large, architecturally complex organisms.  Most of the fossils are rangeomorphs, an extinct group of fractal organisms that dominated the world’s oceans before the beginning of the Cambrian.  These soft-bodied creatures died where they lived when they were buried by ash, thus preserving their community structure and permitting use of modern methods in ecological analysis on fossils more than half a billion years old.  Other attributes of Mistaken Point’s Outstanding Universal Value include exceptional potential for radiometric dating of the assemblages and evidence for the role of ancient oxygen levels in the origin of complex multicellular life. 

Biography: Professor Guy Narbonne completed his Ph.D. at University of Guy Narbonne completed his Ph.D. at University of Ottawa and a post-doctoral fellowship under Hans Hofmann at Université de Montréal and is currently Professor and Research Chair at Queen’s University. Narbonne’s research program on the origin and early evolution of animals has resulted in more than 100 refereed scientific contributions, including the book “Rise of Animals”, a cover story in Science Magazine on the fractal organization of early life, and two papers recognized by Discover Magazine as among the top 100 scientific discoveries worldwide for the year. This research has attracted media attention, including being featured twice in National Geographic (most recently in March 2018) and in the science documentary “First Life with David Attenborough”.  Narbonne has received several awards for his research on early animals including the H.S. Robinson Medal in Precambrian Geology, the Billings Medal in Palaeontology, and the Neale Medal of the Geological Association of Canada and the Bancroft Award of the Royal Society of Canada for geological publication and communication. He recently served as Chief Scientist and a primary co-author for the successful nomination of Mistaken Point as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will be the subject of his talk.