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Nova Scotia's pre-Jurasic park

The Canadian province is home to a surprising number of famous fossil discoveries that track Earth's history back hundreds of millions of years.

Look at this: Geologist John Calder shows the width of a giant millipede track in Nova Scotia.

Lawrence Millman

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When you visit certain parts of Canada's Maritime Provinces, you can easily imagine yourself stepping back in time. The towns seem like towns from the 1950s preserved in amber; lifestyles are deeply rooted in the land or sea; and people move in a casual, unhurried way.

Within a short distance of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, you can find places that go so far back in time that they predate even the world of Jurassic Park. Take West Bay, for example. A local named Eldon George told me that its cliffs are "an excellent drag site." He did not mean that these cliffs were popular for racing cars. Rather, he was referring to the fossilized drag marks and prints of prehistoric creatures preserved in the rock.

As if to prove his point, Mr. George, a dedicated amateur fossil collector, showed me the prints of a horseshoe crab. The drag mark of its spiky tail swiveled behind these prints like a miniature S.

"Maybe 250 million years ago, these little [creatures] were walking around on the sea bottom here – imagine!" he exclaimed. Indeed, little creatures were once the dominant form of life in this part of Nova Scotia. (See Fossils of Nova Scotia at

In 1984 at nearby Wasson's Bluff, George discovered a rock crisscrossed by tiny trackways, which turned out to have been made by the smallest dinosaur ever found, an animal scarcely bigger than a house sparrow.

George was more exhilarated by his discovery, an early Jurassic ancestor of Stephen Spielberg's charismatic megareptiles, than if he had found the jawbone of a T. rex. For him, size matters, but in reverse.


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