Dr. Isaac Hayes and Ellesmere Island Paleontology

On his second Arctic expedition during 1860-1861, Dr. Isaac Hayes ventured by sailing schooner, dog sledge, and finally on foot to the extreme northern headlands of Ellesmere Island, representing an overland journey of ~1300 miles under arduous conditions. He records this expedition in his second book The Open Polar Sea, a narrative in search of the legendary (though not factual) navigable circumpolar Arctic Ocean.

While on Ellesmere Land, Dr. Hayes refers to “a line of very lofty cliffs of Silurian rocks – sandstone and limestone…” Chapter 30, pp. 340-341. Included with these two pages is a historical footnote that covers the bottom of both pages. Within this footnote, Dr. Hayes states “…and on other points of the coast I subsequently obtained a considerable collection of fossils…” p.340.

The import of Ellesmere Island paleontology with regard to 19th century Arctic expeditions is that explorers of the day were knowledgeable of a wide range of natural sciences, and as possible, documented various scientific observations, such as fossils and glacial movement, and the elegant grandeur of the Arctic.

In general terms, the Silurian Period occurred ~430M years ago and was marked with the advent of migrating landmasses and emerging fauna and flora, including the first land animals and the prototypes of modern plants. During that ancient period, the landmasses that eventually became Ellesmere Island and Greenland were more tropically located and contained the diversity of life as presented in Ellesmere Island fossils.

This article was initially posted on the New Bedford Whaling Museum “Arctic Visions” exhibit blog. http://whalingmuseum-arcticvisions.org

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