Mistaken Point—named for the navigational hazard it poses at the often-foggy southeastern tip of Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula—is one of the world's most significant fossil sites.
Embedded in the planes of Mistaken Point's tilted and cleaved mudstone and sandstone, exposed by the pounding of the Atlantic waves, are fossils of the oldest creatures—in fact, the oldest complex life forms—found anywhere on Earth. Known to scientists as the Ediacara biota, they are creatures that lived 575 to 542 million years ago, when all life was in the sea.
The oldest and most spectacular assemblage of these fossils—the Mistaken Point assemblage (575 to 560 million years old)—is preserved in the 5.7-square-kilometre (2.2-square-mile) Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve. The Reserve is the only place in the world where you can view a 565-million-year-old sea floor that accurately preserves the ecology of these ancient deep sea communities. The area is one of nine sites on the Canadian Tentative list of potential UNESCO World Heritage properties.
The creatures whose fossils now form the Mistaken Point assemblage lived on the bottom of a deep ocean, considerably below the depths that waves or light could reach. At the time, what is now Newfoundland was located between latitudes 40° - 65° South. More than 30 species of ancient creatures (20 of which occur within the reserve) comprise the Mistaken Point assemblage, most of them representatives of extinct groups unknown in our modern world.
In normal conditions, when marine organisms die, only bones, shells, and other hard parts are preserved as fossils. The soft-bodied creatures at Mistaken Point lived millions of years before animals developed skeletons, but the imprints of their soft tissues were preserved in place on the muddy sea floor when they were suddenly buried by repeated volcanic ash-falls. The volcanic ash layers contain zircon, which makes it possible for geologists to accurately date the different fossil layers. Fossils of similar age are found in Russia and Australia, but the variety found at Mistaken Point make the site unique.
The main activities that occur in the reserve are scientific research, interpretive tours, wild life watching, nature photography, berry-picking, and, from November to February, sea duck hunting. Access to the fossils is by guided tour only.
May to October
Fees: There are no fees associated with taking an official interpretive tour within the Reserve or to obtain the various permits. Parks and Natural Areas Division offer official interpretive tours at 1:00 p.m. daily
Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is in the Eastern Hyper-oceanic Barrens ecoregion. Visitors to this reserve should be prepared for cool, foggy, or wet weather, a 45-minute hike over rolling ground, and a refreshing and rewarding experience. In order to visit the fossil beds, visitors must be accompanied by an official tour guide. Guided tour schedules and information are available at the interpretive centre in Portugal Cove South. Please avoid walking on loose rocks or gravel near the fossil beds as this will damage the fossils.
Visitors should note that there is only one scheduled tour per day to the fossil beds. The tour leaves the visitor centre in Portugal Cove South at 1 p.m.
Dogs are not permitted on guided tours.