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Hanford Brook

One of the most complete Cambrian stratigraphic and fossil records in New Brunswick is located near the community of Hanford Brook. This area was the source of most of the fossils described during 19th century exploration of the Cambrian rocks in New Brunswick. The outcrops preserve rocks from a little older than 542 million to 500 million years old (from the latest Precambrian almost to the end of the Cambrian).

The rocks contain an abundant fossil record from this period. They were historically significant in defining the Saint John Group of rocks that make up the Cambrian record in the province. In the late 1800s George Matthew gained an international reputation for his work on fossils found here. The outcrops at these sites are much as they were when George Matthew began his pioneering work to describe the Cambrian invertebrates in 1883. Matthew published a sketch of Hanford Brook in 1890. Charles Doolittle Walcott visited Saint John and Matthew in 1877-78. Here Walcott had his first field experience with the early Cambrian fossils Matthew was describing from sites like Hanford Brook.

Rocks at these localities are also part of the understanding of the Cambrian record for the Avalon Terrane that includes rocks in New England, Atlantic Canada, Europe and Africa. The fossil record includes historic and significant records of ‘small shelly fossils’, trace fossils, trilobites and ostracods. Recently two geologists described an ancient glacial deposit from rocks near Hanford Brook. Dropstones that likely plummeted from floating icebergs plopped into the seafloor mud. Although Cambrian glaciations had been theorized for decades, this discovery provides the first evidence.

The Hanford Brook area still has significant sites for the study of Cambrian geology and palaeontology. The fossils found here in the past are preserved in numerous museum collections in North America and Europe including the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John, the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge (Great Britain), the Smithsonian Museum, Washington and others.

Today fossils are protected under New Brunswick’s Heritage Conservation Act and permits are required to collect specimens and conduct research at the site.