Halifax teens find 310-million-year-old fossils in Grand Lake

It's a story more than 300 million years in the making.

Two 15-year-old boys from Halifax discovered fossils of reptilian, amphibian and invertebrate footprints and trails along the shores of Grand Lake, and Rowan Norrad and Luke Allen are now working with New Brunswick Museum researchers to examine the find and further study the site. 

Matt Stimson, the assistant curator of geology at the museum, said the 310-million-year-old tracks are the first of their kind for that period in the province. 

He said the province has footprints that are a bit older and a bit younger and lots of plant fossils from that age, but nothing to show animals were there at that time when New Brunswick was a tropical wetland.

"This discovery fills in that gap for New Brunswick," Stimson told Shift New Brunswick.

It's also a new site for exploration.

But what might impress Stimson the most is the budding scientists who made the discovery. 

"What's really impressive about Luke and Rowan is that they're really making the transition from a scavenger hunt … to scientists at such a young age."

Digging for years

Norrad and Allen didn't just stumble upon some funny-looking rocks. The pair have been searching for fossils for years.

It all started when Norrad's father encouraged him to search for preserved remains or impressions in the rock at the age of five, he said.

"I've pretty much found fossils since then," Norrad said.

Allen said Norrad sparked his interest in the hobby and the two have spent a lot of time searching around Grand Lake, where Norrad's family has a cottage.

They found the deposit of fossilized footprints about two years ago. Allen said the amphibian was likely a salamander and the invertebrate tracks came from millipedes, scorpions, land snails and horseshoe crabs.

"It was a really cool find for us because we've never seen anything like this up there," Allen said.

Meeting Matt

The boys knew they had something important but weren't sure exactly what they had until Allen talked to Nova Scotia geologist John Calder at a science fair. Allen said Calder explained the significance of the fossils, that this was a rare find.

They wanted to bring them to the attention of the New Brunswick Museum, and Calder connected the boys to Stimson, who also works in the geology department at St. Mary's University in Halifax. 

Allen arrived at his office with a basket of fossils wrapped in towels.

"We spent most of the day pouring over these tracks and mulling over them, theorizing as to what they could be and documenting as much as we could," Stimson said.

New Brunswick Museum/Twitter

Museum researchers — Stimson and summer research assistant Oliva King — continue to survey and document the site along with the boys who have remained part of the project the whole way.

Norrad has made many sketches that will be included in the research.

"It's pretty awesome," said Allen. "It's pretty interesting stuff and I can't thank Olivia and Matt enough."

Both boys say they're passionate about the work and could see themselves pursuing this for a career.

Stimson said all fossils are considered property of New Brunswick and, if you do find one, the public has a duty to report it.