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Fred Hartt and George Matthew

One of the most historic New Brunswick fossil locations is the ‘Fern Ledges’-Duck Cove site. It contained a world-famous fossil biota in the mid-1800s and was the place where the Natural History Society of New Brunswick was born. When the fossils were first described from the 1860s to the 1880s, the rocks were considered to be Devonian age and the rare insect fossils were believed to be the oldest in the world. Members of a geology group called the Steinhammer Club in Saint John, in particular Fred Hartt and George Matthew, conducted the first palaeontological work. Recognition of their efforts by Sir William Dawson, Principal of McGill College in Montreal, resulted in the establishment of the Natural History Society of New Brunswick. Fred Hartt, along with Samuel Scudder of Boston, described the insects from ‘Fern Ledges’ in the 1860s and today those fossil specimens are represented as part and counterpart, with one half of the fossil at the New Brunswick Museum and the other half at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. One prized specimen, half now at the New Brunswick Museum, included what was thought to be a stridulating organ, a sound-making structure on an insect wing. This specimen mentioned by Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man, inspired nineteenth century musings on the primeval rainforests alive with the sound of chirping!

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