Brule Fossils from the Past
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Small walking trail near the Brule Fossil Centre. Easy parking at the museum.
Fossils of Brule
Identifying the Trackways
Hundreds of footprints have been found at Brule. Identification of the animals that made them is based on the similarity of the footprints with those of contemporary fossil skeletons as well as general similarities in size and shape. Often, this involves a lot of imagination and detective work.
DimetrodonWhile scientists have yet to confidently identify three of the trackmakers, we do know the general types of animals that match these styles of tracks. Araeoscelis represents the family of lizard-like animals that would have made one of the undetermined trackways. Another was probably a temnospondyl amphibian, perhaps cacops. The third style of trackway has been named Gilmoreichnus sp. and is vaguely ascribed to an ophiacodont pelycosaur, but it is not certain as to which species.
Of the recognisable trackways, one type has been attributed to the mammal-like reptile Dimetrodon sp. The footprints are smaller than Dimetrodon prints found elsewhere in the world, but scientists believe that this may be a smaller species of Dimetrodon specific to this region. Another of the trackways fits Varanops sp. to a tee.
SeymouriaThe most common trackway at Brule was most likely made by a reptiliomorph called Seymouria sp. In places where the path was wide, these footprints are often accompanied with a tail drag, indicating a sprawling stride. The tail drag disappears where the path narrows and the animal may have had to hold itself more upright (in order to pass between trees, for example).
What the Trackways Tell Us
Brule presents the world's oldest evidence of herding behaviour. Many of the trackways point in the same direction, indicating that this direction was preferred by the animals for some reason (a path to a water hole, for example). In areas where there are subsequent layers of tracks separated by sediment, the direction of the footprints is the same. These paths seem to have been used over a long period of time.
Scientists believe that the animals at Brule travelled in herds. The tracks were pressed into the mud within a short time frame, while the conditions were ideal (as if by a group of animals travelling together). Also, many of the trackways were made by several individuals but always by the same type of animal, and the regular spacing of the tracks suggests a "follow the leader" pattern of movement.
The tetrapod trackways meander through the fossilised evidence of an ancient forest. This forest appears to consist of only one type of tree, a primitive conifer of the genus Walchia. Never before have Walchia fossils been found in Nova Scotia, although they have been found in parts of Europe. This suggests that Nova Scotia and Europe were once in close proximity to one other and had similar environments.
Even more astonishing is the fact that the forest has been preserved in its original growing position--the only example of this ever found! Prior to the discovery at Brule, scientists had never found a Walchia specimen in situ, and could only guess what an entire forest might have looked like. Brule is truly a snapshot of the past.
The forest is made up of over 90 tree stumps, prostrate trees with branches and the impressions of the foliage that would have littered the forest floor. Some of the stumps are oval rather than round and scientists believe that these are the remains of windblown trees, leaning at odd angles to the forest floor. The trees were probably more than 12 m (40 ft) tall, with little tapering in the trunks and whorled branches spaced 35-50 cm (14-20 inches) apart. Some had cones, similar to present day pinecones.
All of these clues lead scientists to believe that this was a mixed age forest favouring younger trees, with up to 1400 trees per hectare (566 trees per acre), inhabited by various tetrapods. Ground cover plants on the forest floor seem to have been sparse if not altogether absent, as there is no evidence of them.
Snapshot of the Past
Brule illustrates a moment in geologic time that occurred somewhere very close to the boundary between the Carboniferous Period and the Permian Period. It provides us with a clear picture of life in a Walchia forest 290 million years ago.
The cache is a small PB container with black tape. Small trading items, pencil, sharpener & logbook.
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