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SATRA helps protect 565 million year old Canadian fossil site

Understanding the impact of foot traffic at Mistaken Point

24th April 2019

SATRA is currently working with Dr Jack Matthews, a research fellow from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Memorial University of Newfoundland, to understand if foot traffic from visitors to the Mistaken Point UNESCO World Heritage Site in Newfoundland is wearing away the 565 million year old fossils of international renown. Using footwear test equipment at SATRA’s main UK technical facility in Northamptonshire, Dr Matthews is working with staff to replicate the impact of tourist foot fall on ancient fossilised sea floors.

Rock slab 3D scanned by SATRA's Harriet Mason

Rock slab 3D scanned by SATRA's Harriet Mason

Dr Jack Matthews (left) and SATRA's David Smith with the SATRA Pedatron

Dr Jack Matthews (left) and SATRA's David Smith with the SATRA Pedatron

Dr Matthew’s work, funded by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, seeks to understand whether visitors to the site are putting the geological heritage at risk, and if so, how this can be managed. The fossils at the site represent some of the earliest evidence of large, complex organisms, and as such are important to our understanding of the rise of animal life during the period in earth history known as the Ediacaran.

SATRA is using the Pedatron, a biomechanical abrasion tester which provides an accelerated wear simulation by imposing a true walking action over the siltstone rock with accurate motions, speeds and pressures. The site’s meteorological conditions are replicated in the SATRA Pedatron by regularly spraying the siltstone with water and with the application of sediment collected from the site. The siltstone sample being tested has been selected from an area of Newfoundland that is exactly the same rock type, but doesn’t contain fossils. Ediacaran fossils are protected by provincial legislation and as such cannot be removed or damaged.

The surface of the rock slab was 3D scanned before testing and will be scanned again at the end to detect any changes to the surface as a result of the experimental footfall erosion. Dr Matthews will publish the results in a scientific journal later in the year.

“SATRA’s Pedatron offers a unique opportunity for scientists to understand the effects of footwear abrasion on sites such as Mistaken Point,” said Dr Matthews. “The results we gain from the experiment will impact the management of this site for years to come, as well as guiding other sites around the world in their geoconservation. I fully expect researchers from across heritage science, including historians, archaeologists, and geologists, to be using this technique in the near future.”