• Rocks at Mistaken Point, Nfld. containing some of the oldest fossils in the world

    Mistaken Point ecological reserve on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula is home to some of the oldest fossils ever discovered. (Photo: Helen Goodchild/Flickr)

The Canadian home of some of the world's oldest fossils has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mistaken Point, located on the southeastern edge of Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula, had been under consideration as a potential World Heritage Site since last year, and was officially recognized as such at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Istanbul on July 17. 

Mistaken Point is ecologically significant because it is comprised of ancient rock in which are found the fossilized remains of multicellular organisms that lived 572 to 542 million years ago. Creatures dating from the Precambrian era lacked the hard shells typically required to create fossils, but in this case soft tissues were preserved by volcanic ash-falls, resulting in a spectacularly diverse and important set of fossils.

The area has been an ecological reserve since 1987, but Richard Thomas, a Mistaken Point geologist, told the CBC he is hopeful the UNESCO designation will raise the area's profile as a site for both research and tourism. 

“The provincial government now has a duty to protect and monitor and present the site to the world,” he said.

UNESCO—the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization—has been designating World Heritage sites since 1972. Sites are nominated and assessed, and granted recognition based on a cultural or natural significance that warrants their protection for future generations.

Mistaken Point joins a list of 17 other Canadian World Heritage Sites spanning six provinces and two territories and is the fourth site in Newfoundland and Labrador. The area is so named because foggy weather often led sailors to mistake it for nearby Cape Race.