Fortune’s future wealth may come from the recorded contents of its ancient stone. The Fortune Head Ecological Reserve is known around the world for the composition of its cliffs. It is recognized as a “global stratotype”, or international reference point for the Precambrian-Cambrian geological boundary. This is the method scientists use to tell the age and many other factors about the earth.
Of vital importance in earth’s history, this boundary marks a most significant stage in the evolution of life, thought to have occurred almost exactly 543 million years ago. Development plans include an interpretation center and tourism marketing. But what is a stratotype, or a geological boundary? What does all this mean in plain, simple language?
Picture unfamiliar land masses, covered with lush green vegetation. Golden sandy beaches and smooth clean cliff faces. All surrounded by blue-green, unpolluted oceans. Life forms were very simple, consisting mostly of algae, bacteria and plankton. This was the Precambrian world — much older than the Jurassic Park time.
Suddenly, everything was thrown into chaos and ripped apart by explosions of unknown causes, and tremendous force. Volcanoes erupted. Earthquakes and floods occurred. Land was reshaped, creating new mountains, valleys, plateaus, rivers and oceans. That was when the cliffs of Fortune Head came into being — at the start of the Cambrian period.
However, it was more than just worldwide upset and the rearrangement of global features. Other changes were taking place as well. It was the beginning of what is commonly referred to as the “Big Bang” of evolution.
Scientists think there was more oxygen in the air after this gigantic shakeup. The soft-bodied organisms and life forms of the Precambrian period now underwent some startling transformations. They began to develop hard, protective shells, jaws and claws. Instead of co-existing peacefully, there were now predators and prey.
Precambrian organisms had been asexual, neither male nor female, and had reproduced by a method similar to cloning. During the Big Bang, many life forms developed into male or female, and discovered sexual reproduction. More new species were born than during any other time period in the history of the earth. Soon the world was literally crawling with swarms of strange little creatures. They wiggled, squirmed, crawled, and swam everywhere.
Is this really what happened? What the earth was really like? Science seems to think so. Maybe they’re right. In any case, it is a fascinating story and it is supported by an ever-increasing amount of scientific evidence.
Part of this captivating story is written in the layers of sand, silt, etc., that make up the cliffs of Fortune Head. These cliffs, therefore, may contain the answers to many questions about the history of the planet and the evolution of life.
The site itself is protected because of its scientific importance. Meanwhile, the planned interpretation center, in the town of Fortune, will fully explain just what it all means. The potential benefits in science, education, and tourism could well be where the future wealth of the town comes from.
© F. Herridge
Published in Newfoundland Herald, October 1999
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