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Inspiring paleontologist says Ashcroft has potential for more fossil tourism

The Vancouver Paleontological Society says that many places in B.C. could attract more ‘fossil tourism’.
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Membership for the Vancouver Palentological Society is open to anyone with interest in fossils. All VanPS expeditions and field trips organized by the other regional societies that are part of the BCPA. (Contributed to Black Press—by Graeme Martell)

Aspiring paleontologist Graeme Martell believes historical treasures in the form of ancient fossils may have been discovered in Ashcroft after a recent expedition and says there could be more.

Martell and a fellow member of the Vancouver Paleontological Society recently adventured to the region and came back with ammonites and paper clams – confirming triassic sedimentary deposits.

“They are approximately 150 to 200 million years old,” Martell told Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal in a phone interview.

Martell’s goal is to have a designated site to regulate the responsible collection of fossils in Ashcroft. He says that findings are often discovered by amateurs, and that’s why he wants to utilize modern technology to help make finding fossils easier.

“The problem is that most important discoveries are found by hobbyists, rock hunters, and amateur professionals, and a lot of the time, they don’t get enough accurate data of where they found these. Creating a database with GPS locations will help scientists ease their work and provide them with more data statistics.”

Martell says all these discoveries refer back to the break up of what scientists call Pangaea, known as a supercontinent that incorporated almost all the landmasses on Earth over 299 million years ago. Half of the Earth’s tectonic plates disappeared during its formation, which scientists still question.

“The last 37 million years of tectonic activity is highly debated during the volcanic activity during the cascade range episode,” Martell said.

He noted that the Pacific Rim of Fire is currently Earth’s most tectonically active region.

Over the last 37 million years, the Cascade Arc spanning from southern B.C. to Washington has erupted a chain of volcanoes. The Ohanapacosh Formation, for example, underlies much of the area of Mount Rainier in Washington. It’s predicted by paleontologists that below this ‘thrust wedge fault likely lies an ocean below the Pacific Ocean.’

In the Okanagan Highlands lies McAbee Fossils Beds, marking the number-one fossil site near Ashcroft that was closed to the public since the fossils were discovered and is now operated by the Bonaparte First Nations. The McAbee Fossil Beds are a heritage site that protects an Eocene Epoch fossil locality east of Cache Creek and can be seen from Highway 97.

Palaeontological and geological studies of the McAbee Fossil Beds first commenced in the 1960s and early 1970s by Len Hills of the University of Calgary. Martell suspects two or three specimens are allochthonous to the rest of the ammonites. Ammonites were once the most abundant animals of the ancient seas, formed during the early Cretaceous period.

“My discovery contains bivalve clam specimens and a few ammonites. They are likely a minimum of 150 million years old. I have some specimens I believe may be much older than that. If the marine bivalves I found are, in fact, from the Ordovician era, it could provide insight into the mass extinction event 450 million years ago caused by climate change,” said Martell.

He says that any potential fossils he finds he reports to the fossil management sector, which is then in the hands of researchers and can lead to important discoveries and further scientific understandings.

As for furthering the exploration in Ashcroft, Martell says he wants to work alongside interested universities and document the process.

The VanPS was created in 1994 to promote public awareness of B.C. fossil heritage and to ensure safe and responsible fossil collecting. They provide educational information about ancient life through field trips, presentations, and displays. Membership is open to anyone interested in fossils; registration is $30 for individuals and families.

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The McAbee Fossil Beds is a Heritage Site that protects an Eocene Epoch fossil locality east of Cache Creek, and according to Martell the potential for many more paleontological discoveries. (Contributed to Black Press—by Graeme Martell)
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“If my brachiopod specimen is in fact a Hesperorthis then that means it’s from the Ordovician era. This is important because the mass extinction event was due to climate change and could help us better understand climate change today,” said Martell.
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Martell believes that the brachiopods, specifically these fossils, appear to be much older than paper clams found in Triassic. (Contributed to Black Press— by Graeme Martell)