Lorenzo Mancetti, left, a geologist from Italy, and Matt Stinson, a post-graduate student at Dalhousie University, take a look at the footprint of a veranopus, one of the first reptiles in existence. Mancetti contacted the Margaret Fawcett Norrie Heritage Centre, where the fossilized footprint is on display, about visiting to inspect it. Kristin Hirtle photo

It was quite an exciting day for the volunteers at the Margaret Fawcett Norrie Heritage Centre recently.

On June 21, an Italian geologist spent more than five hours analyzing fossils in the collection. It was the footprints of a 290-million-year-old reptile – the veranopus, one of the first reptiles – that attracted Lorenzo Mancetti’s attention.

“He was absolutely excited about seeing them,” said Maralyn Driver, the treasurer of the Creamery Square Heritage Society, which operates the centre. “He spent ages looking at the footprints.”
Along with Mancetti, the centre saw a visit with John Calder, a senior geologist from New Brunswick Museum, Matt Stinson, a post-graduate student at Dalhousie University, and Olivia King, an intern with Canada Works, who is working with Calder for the summer.

“They took it out of the display to look at – they were extremely careful with it, using a special trolley and wearing latex gloves.”

It was in 1994 when brothers Howard and Corey Van Allen were out for a walk on Brule Beach, near Brule Corners. The tide that night was extremely low, and the brothers looked down and noticed the footprints.

“They realized then just how important those footprints were,” said Driver.

The brothers contacted the Nova Scotia Museum, who told them just how special the find was.

The footprints were then on display at the community in centre in Brule, under the ownership of the Nova Scotia Museum. When the heritage centre in Tatamagouche was setting up its display, it was decided the footprints would be part of the exhibit. The Nova Scotia Museum leases the fossil annually.

“The luck in this whole thing is that they found them when they did,” said Driver. “Another year or so and they could’ve been eroded.”

The veranopus was a small reptile, measuring an estimated eight centimetres from nose to tip of tail. Its footprints are small – about a centimetre to a centimetre-and-a-half.

Along with the footprints, Driver said Mancetti looked at the other fossils in the exhibit, including the Walchia, a coniferous tree from the same period.

“What I found out from them is that people found branches and needles from this particular tree throughout the world, but we’re the only place that has fossilized remnants of a tree trunk,” said Driver.

She hopes the visit from Mancetti and his team will help put the village, and the centre itself, more on the map for visitors. She’s hoping the fossil will bring other geologists from around the world to take a look.