North Island Explorer: Guide to North Vancouver Island




       April 2006













 Fossil hunting on Vancouver Island.

The future of paleontology and a concretion that's been cracked open.





































Fossil hunting on Vancouver Island is a rewarding hobby that takes you to some spectacular locations. Fortunatly, there are many places with easy access to Cretaceous fossil beds between Nanaimo and Campbell River.


A good place to start is with the book West Coast Fossils by Rolf Ludvigsen and Graham Beard. This book is an authoritative glimpse at what fossils you can find on Vancouver Island. But it is largely written for the amateur collector so it is by no means out of reach for the first time fossil hunter.


Another good place to head to is the Courtenay Museum. The museum primarily displays fossils collected from the area so you can acquaint yourself with the textures and shapes of fossils and rocks you are likely to find. It is also a good place to go when you've found something that you can't identify. And, they also have a fossil tour in the summer months, which is a great way to get introduced to amateur paleontology. The tour starts off with a lecture, followed by a field trip where you will dig fossils with a professional.


Fossil hunting on Vancouver Island requires relatively few tools. The most important tool is a rock hammer, which is also called a rock pick or a geologist's hammer. Unfortunately, they are not all that common where I live so I had to order mine online. Estwing is a dependable brand and you can generally pick one up for between $25.00 and $50.00.  Along with the rock hammer, you'll need a couple of rock chisels. You can buy these at any hardware store and I recommend you get the ones with plastic protective handles. You'll save yourself a lot of pain if you do.  You'll also need some tubes of super glue because the fossil extraction never works out the way you hope in the brittle shale. And you'll need to bring some newspaper to wrap your fossils up with for the journey home. Some optional tools are a crowbar for moving heavy boulders and a heavy hammer for some serious rock breaking. Finally, you'll need a set of goggles and gloves for safety. Rock shards are often very sharp and could do serious damage to your eyes.


A good place to begin your search is along the riverbanks of the Trent and Puntledge Rivers. Don't be surprised if you can't find an ammonite at first, these rivers have been picked clean by fossil hunters over the years so the easy finds are no longer there. But that doesn't mean they aren't loaded with fossils, you just have to look for them. You should generally be able to find some bivalves or gastropods on your first expedition.


Fossils can be found anywhere in the shale, but some of the best fossils are found in hardened nodules called concretions.  For some reason, when shale is formed out of mud sediments, hard boulders form around dead organic matter. When exposed to the elements, these concretions weather out of the softer shale. When cracked open they often split along the lines of a fossil, if one is contained within. The right two photos at the top of the page show a concretion that has been cracked open revealing a fragment of a heteromorph ammonite inside.


Finally, if, after trying it a few times, this hobby interests you, you might want to get involved with the Vancouver Island Paleontological Society. They are a group of knowledgeable amateurs and professionals who plan several fossil expeditions throughout the year. Newcomers are welcome and well taken care of!


On a closing note, we should also go over some ethical considerations. In some sense, fossils represent our collective heritage. And therefore, significant finds really do belong in museums or with researchers. Most bivalves, crustaceans, gastropods and ammonites are common enough that it is ok to collect them. However, any vertebrate fossils (reptiles, amphibians, birds, or mammals) should be left alone for a team of paleontologists to dig up. It is also illegal to harvest fossils in provincial parks without a permit. And you should obtain permission to collect on private land from owners. As well, you should take into account any sensitive environment areas such as salmon bearing streams before beginning your dig. Keeping those issues in mind, happy hunting!


Vancouver Island Cretaceous | Evolution with aTwist | The Where and How




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