The History of the Discovery of Fossils on Manuels River
(This excerpt from Reminiscences Among the Rocks by T. C. Weston of the Geological Survey of Canada, describes his discovery of fossils during a visit to Manuels River in 1874. Based in Montreal, Weston came here at the request of Alexander Murray of the Geological Survey of Newfoundland to explore and investigate the local area.)
"I left by the next English mail steamer, which called at St. John's. Our ship arrived safely, Murray met me at the wharf, and I was soon housed in the best hotel in the city. Two days later, Murray came with a trap and an Indian named Joe, who was to act as guide and general assistant. We drove off through the country… and at last arrived at Manuels River, twelve miles from the city. Mr. Murray procured lodging and board for us at a comfortable farm house a short distance from Manuels River, a mile or two from Conception Bay.
I decided before starting to work next day I would look round myself. After breakfast, with some lunch in our pockets, we started off for the day… for the first day, not long after we started down the river, I found, in an exposure of clay-slate, one solitary specimen of that little fossil Crustacean, Microdiscus, already alluded to… But there was more luck in store. Some distance down the river I saw a small island with rocks in the middle of the stream. Joe found we could reach this by wading and ordered me to get on his back, which I did, and was soon standing on an exposure of iron-stained clay-slates crowded with fossils Paradoxides and other typical Primordial forms. We collected specimens enough to fill several cases in Mr. Murray's museum…
After returning from Manuels River, Murray and I made several trips to various parts of Conception Bay, and obtained many interesting new fossils… Having completed the field work assigned to me, I spent the remainder of the time till my steamer arrived in putting some of the cases in the small museum, which consisted of several rooms in Mr. Murray's house… "
(Note: The definitive work on the fossils of the area was carried out by Professor B. F. Howell of Princeton University in his PhD thesis which was published by the Paleontological Research Institution of Ithaca, New York in 1925.)
Trilobites are an extinct class of marine arthropods that inhabited the earth's oceans from the Early Cambrian Period to the Late Permian Period, a time span greater than 300 million years. These creatures looked much like the modern day carpenter, but lived beneath the water. They measured anywhere from 1 mm to 60 cm in length.
Some trilobites lived in shallow water, while others lived in deep water off the edges of continental shelves around offshore sand bars, lagoons or reefs. Breathing through gills on their legs, much like a lobster, trilobites crawled or swam along the bottom of the sea, often burrowing into the mud. While some of them were blind and had to rely on sensory antennae, most had compound eyes made up of closely packed lenses, which gave them a wide field of view.
As a means of protecting themselves, trilobites had an outer shell known as an exoskeleton. Some had hard exoskeletons that protected them, while others had softer shells and would roll up into a ball to shield themselves. Others used their sharp spines as a means of protection. Trilobites grew by periodically shedding their exoskeletons as modern crabs and lobsters do. As time passed, these discarded pieces of shell fossilized.
No one really knows what trilobites ate or how they reproduced. They became extinct, after 300 million years of inhabiting the earth, because they became too specialized and were unable to adapt to the changing climate.
Trilobite fossils are commonly found in shale because shale is essentially fossilized mud. When the mud solidified into the eventual rock, the imprints of these ancient creatures were left for us to find millions of years later.
The trilobites of the Avalon Peninsula are quite different from those that lived at the same time in western Newfoundland. This is because the species evolved differently in these two regions which at the time were separated by thousands of kilometers across the Lapetus Ocean. Western Newfoundland was located near the equator in warm shallow waters, while eastern Newfoundland was in a higher latitude, covered with cool, deep water.
The most detailed study of fossils of the Conception Bay area was that undertaken by Professor B. F. Howell of Princeton University. He collected 15,000 specimens in 1919 and published his findings in his PhD thesis in 1925.
Manuels River is an internationally known site for fossilized trilobites. Manuels River has been designated by the Provincial Government
as a 'Designated Palentogicial Site'
and now falls under very strict research guidelines. As such a Provincial Permit is now required to excavate or conduct any research in
any areas along the Manuels River.
Please contact the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre at 834-2099 for more information.
To find out more about our fossils and view a variety of specimens please visit our current visitor's centre and look for the the opening in the
spring of 2013 our new Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre.