Famous for its record of fossils dating back more than 300 million years to the Coal Age, Joggins was once covered in lush forests. The swamp forests in this area and others produced so much organic matter over millions of years that the coal deposits created from them gave their name to the period.
Joggins Fossil Cliffs, the most complete fossil record of life during this period anywhere in the world, were discovered by Nova Scotian geologist Sir William Dawson. Frozen in place are trees that still stand where they grew millions of years ago, the footprints of numerous creatures and the earliest reptiles entombed in hollow logs. Dawson himself uncovered the fossil of Hylonomus lyelli, which remains the earliest known reptile in the history of life on earth. It was named the provincial fossil of Nova Scotia in 2002.
The site is considered so perfect that it was mentioned in Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”
Geologists were first attracted to the area in the 1820s and have been visiting it ever since. The coastal exposure of the Coal Age rocks means new fossils once buried deep within the structure are constantly making their way to the surface for new scientists to find and study. While the cliffs are high at 75 feet, the area is subjected to some of the highest tides in the world, frequently measuring nearly 50 feet tall.
In 2008, a 15 kilometer length of the coast that includes Joggins Fossil Cliffs was added to the World Heritage List.