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-km2 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.
Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is in the Eastern Hyper-oceanic Barrens ecoregion (862 KB). Visitors to this Reserve should be prepared for cool, foggy or wet weather, a 30-minute hike (one-way) over rolling ground, and a refreshing and rewarding experience. The hike is rated as moderate difficulty and the tour destination is a vantage point above one of the fossil surfaces. For more information please contact the Reserve Interpreters at the number below. In order to view the fossils, visitors must be accompanied by an official tour guide. Guided tour schedules and information are available at the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre in Portugal Cove South. Please avoid walking on loose rocks or gravel near the fossil beds as this can dislodge rocks that damage the fossils.
Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve was established as a Provisional Reserve in 1984 and received permanent designation in 1987. An extension to the west was first added as an Emergency Ecological Reserve in 2003 to encompass newly discovered fossils. In 2009 Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve was expanded to permanently protect the new fossil sites.
For more information about guided tours (late May - early October) within Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve, call the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre in Portugal Cove South and ask to speak to one of the Reserve's Interpreters.
For information on Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve permit requirements for research, educational tour groups or commercial operators, or the Reserve's Fossil Protection Zone, contact:
For general information about Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve or any of the other sites in the Province's protected areas system, please contact
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