In physical cosmology, the age of the universe is the time elapsed since the Big Bang. The current measurement of the age of the universe is 13.799±0.021 billion. Our Solar System is relatively youthful and the planet we live on only commenced to  accreate and take on form from space dust about 4.6  billion years ago.

Illustration by R. Chesley Bonestall.

The creator god or deities may not have intended to annoy any species.  If pagan theology is correct, the Prime Force brought the universe and "World of Men" into existence out of simple ennui.  This apprently set the clock of time in motion. Christians blame God while for this event, while some pagans cite the Allfather as responsible. In either case, some philosophers have noted that this "immortal" seems to have tired of watching the experiment and stepped back outside of time to a more restful place. The planet Earth has since became infested with Homo sapiens and they are, on average, an angry species.

The good news is that Precambriam Time commenced at the formation of the planet 4.6 billion years ago and lasted to the geologically sudden diversification of multicellular life in Cambrium Time (usually dated at about 542 million years ago). The earliest Hadean Eon lasted until 4 billion years past, a time inimicable to any life form since the crust was a version of what some would call Hell, unprotected bombardment from space debris by layers of atmosphere and water. It is thought that sometime during the first 800 million or so years of its history, the surface of the Earth changed from liquid to solid but erosion and plate tectonics has probably destroyed all of the solid rocks older than 3.8 billion years.

On Earth the heavier iron atoms sank down and became the core of the Earth, and lighter atoms like silica and hydrogen rose to the surface. Most of the gases generated by vucanism - hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and nitrogen - floated away into space. Water, brought to Earth by comets that crashed into the Earth, boiled into steam because the Earth was still very hot. About 4.3 billion years ago, the steam in the atmosphere also cooled down enough to fall as rain on the Earth, and that led to the formation of oceans.

By this time planetoid incursions weren't as frequent, allowing the Earth and the Moon to form rocky crusts of silica. The oldest Earth rocks and Moon rocks we know about both date to this time. These are igneous rocks persisting as variants of granite and quartz. By 4.2 billion years, Earth had land and oceans just as it does today, and plate tectonics may have already been moving the land and oceans around. The oceans in some parts of the Earth may even have been frozen into ice, as the North and South Poles are today. Inside the oceans, amino acids from space began to join together into the first proteins - not yet life, but a step along the way. Probably the earliest RNA molecules also formed at this time.

Water has been guessed to have been on the ground about 4.3 billion years ago, but when life developed in it is not exactly known. In geology, a Craton is a mass of ancient basement continental crust layered down in Precambian times. The rocks comprising them are now thick, dense and crystalline and  more stable than younger rock masses
accreated to them. These latter are geologically active and unstable. Cratons are described as shields when the basement rock crops out at the surface, and platforms, where the basement is overlaid by sediments and sedimentary rock. Hence the "Canadian Shield" in northern Quebec.

At this point in time, the only part of Nova Scotia in existence was a northwestern sliver of Cape Breton Island, part of that "Deformed Craton" involved on the east coat with the Grenviliam mountain-buiding episode,creating the Appalachian chain which once rivalled the Rockies. Other land masses, rafted in by continental drift, became attached to the continental cratons. Oceanic crust, being more youthful, is less deep than continental crust.

The Cambrian Period of the Phanerozoic Eon, in which we are currently stranded, commenced 540 Mya and ended 5.6 million years later. It stands between Mesozoic and Precambrian. At this time the oceans and seas filled with an astonishing diversity of animals. Guy Narbonne, a palaeobiologist at Queen's University in Kingston, Canada. “The advent of pervasive carnivory, made possible by oxygenation, is likely to have been a major trigger.” There were life forms in the Precambrian world but these were largely small, unicellular and soft-bodied and left little record as fossils in sedimentary rock. At first, there had been a hot time in the "old town" day and night, but but the crust cooled and came to house a shallow world-wide ocean not inimicable to primitive life. That changed when plate tectonics set in and continents started to drift, raising mountains and blocking world-wide water circulation patterns.

The Snowball Earth hypothesis proposes that Earth's surface became entirely or nearly entirely frozen at least once, perhaps more often, in the Precambrian. "The snowball-Earth episodes occurred before the sudden radiation of multicellular bioforms, known as the Cambrian explosion.  The most recent snowball episode may have triggered the evolution of multicellularity." Another, much earlier and longer snowball episode, the Huronian glaciation may have been triggered by the first release of oxygen into the atmosphere.

Note the two most recent proposed "Snowball World incidents (S).It has been a roller-coaster ride as far as average temperatures are concerned and there have been a number of global "ice ages" althogh nothing approaching earlier deep freeze conditions where the only open water was a seasonal band near the Earth's equator. We are currently emerging from the last inundation by ice, the Wisconsian Glaciation. Present-day temperatures are nowhere near the "norm." To put things in perspective, note that multicellular life forms (ML) became common 600 Mbp, and Homo sapiens fossil remains (HS) date still later although related humanoid species have been uncovered. The Avalone Terrane, a microcontinent snuggled up to the North American Craton  about 300 million tears ago.

Green areas, placed of Mountain-building. Red dots, vulcanism.
Rodinia ( Russian "The Motherland") was a  supercontinent that was assembled which coalesced 1.3 to 0.9 billion years ago and broke up 750 to 633 million years past. For at least a part of that time it was snowballed. Rodinia formed by accretion and collision of fragments produced by the breakup of an older supercontinent, Columbia.
The extreme cooling of the global climate around 717–635 million years ago and the rapid evolution of primitive life during the subsequent Ediacaran and Cambrian periods are thought to have been initially triggered by the breaking up of Rodinia and a slowing down of tectonic processes, which meant less vulcanism.

Ma = a billion years. This diagram shows the wanderings of Rodinia caused by slow, but inexorable, continental drift. Terranes and cratons alike were like icebergs floating on streams of water. At the time of "snowball" incident that supercontinent was at the top of the west quadranta long way from te equator and further still from the South Pole.

In 2017, fossilized microorganisms, or microfossils, were announced to have been discovered in hydrothermal vent precipitates in the Nuvvuagittuq Belt of Quebec, Canada that may be as old as 4.28 billion years old, the oldest record of life on Earth, suggesting "an almost instantaneous emergence of life" after ocean formation 4.41 billion years ago. The tubes for these life forms are seen as white ;ines within red hemayite rock.

"The discovery was made in the Nuvvuagittuq Greenstone Belt in Northern Quebec in rock known as 'banded iron formations.' These formations existed billions of years ago, a result of organisms reacting with dissolved iron in the water that covered the planet." While the age is debated,
Jonathan O'Neil, assistant professor at the University of Ottawa's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, believes it to be on the older side. "But even if the rock is younger than that, it would still make their finding the oldest record of life on Earth, by 100 million years." 

A Terrane is a bit of matter broken off from one tectonic plate and sutured or accreted to another
. The fragment preserves its own distinctive geologic history, different from that of other terranes and is spmetimed identified as an "exotic terrane." The suture zone between a terrane and the crust it attaches to is defined as a fault. Nova Scotia has one area associated with the Laurentian Craton at Blair River, Cape Breton. Other parts of the island belong to the Miramichi Terrane. Aside from that, the rest of Nova Scotia lies within the Avalon Terrane or the Meguma Terrane. the former consists of basal rock laid down near the equator, the latter drifted in from the South Pole area.

The colour schemes are somewhat consist with those on the map seen above. Lines indicate spreading and subducting oceanic fault zones, the driving and pulling forces in continetal drift of plates of continental oceanic and associated continental rock.  SP. South Pole. #1, Miramichi Zone, #2, Avalonian Terrane, 3 Meguma Terrane. Red and blue colours indicate mountain-building areas. Avalonia developed as a volcanic arc of islands on the northern margin of Gondwana (Soth America and Africa). It eventually rifted off, becoming a drifting microcontinent. The Rheic Ocean formed behind it, and the Iapetus Ocean shrank in front. It collided with the continents Baltica, then Laurentia, and finally with Gondwana, ending up in the interior of the supercontinent named Pangea. When Pangea broke up, Avalonia's remains were divided by the rift which became the Atlantic Ocean.

This more general view shows Atlantic terranes after the opening of the Artlantic Ocean following fragmentation of the aforementiomed supercontinent. Geologically, northeatern Nova Scotia has bedrock in common with many areas in Britain, northern Europe and Greenland Europe, but southwestern Nova Scotia is closely related to areas of Africa,Spain and France. Lunenburg County lies within Meguma Terrane while Pictou County is in the Avalon Terrane, first identified in the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland.

Simple is better for our purposes.  The Avalonian Terrane is painted paddy green.  As you can see a good portion of Prince Edward Island and southern Cape Breton Island have this as bedrock.  In Canada, Avalonia  also comprises the Avalon Peninsula of southeast Newfoundland, and southern New Brunswick. In the United States, Avalonia consists of northern coastal Maine, all of Rhode Island, and other unshown sections of coastal New England.

The Maritimes Basin is a Mid-Devonian to Early Permian sedimentary basin that underlies parts of the northeastern United States and Atlantic Canada. Itconsists of many sub-basins, such as the Pictou Basin and the Windsor-Kennetcook Basin. Some of these basins host important natural resources, including coal, petroleum, and minerals such as sylvite, halite, and barite. The sedimentary rocks deposited in massive amounts by weather and erosion of uplands became sandstone, conglomerates and shale under pressure from water and overburden. Uranium deposits affect groundwater in these areas. Methane is another potential problem for everyone.

The coal seams of Pictou County are extensive and 45 seams are found in an area 5 by 16 kilometres in area within the former  Pictou Basin.  The coal measures are overall 2,400 metres in thickness and are guessed to have been laid down in a lake between the mountains, where conditions were uniform for a very long time. Vegetable matter was carried by water into this lowland and became compacted into coal in those blue dotted areas at the centre of the basin.

The pecularity of these coal seams is that they were laid down in regions where the surrounding landscape was considerably displaced creating local faults and a confusing geology. The coal seams are in open folds in the crust wit the coal ranging from 1 to 13 metres in thickness in the seams. Coal was found outside the major deposition area at Merigomish and near Pictou and Caribou but was never commercially viable. Methane gas given off by mined coat is
is nontoxic, yet extremely flammable and may form explosive mixtures with air. Methane is also an asphyxiant and may displace oxygen in an enclosed space and is a greenhouse gas which is why researchers have started to track this gas in Pictou County. All animals generate methane gas as a by-product of the digestive process. More about that later!

These are the named lowland areas in the Avalon and Meguma terranes.  The Pictou Basin was located in the Stellarton area. The exceptions include the Triassic lowlands  south of the Bay of Fundy (dark blue-green), the others are highlands, where ancient bedrock is often exposed. Petroleum prospects are indicated as black dots. Some of those lowlands were "Old Red Sandstone" country, and remain as such.

Sometimes the reduced product still blows in the wind on local beaches. The Old Red Sandstone is an assemblage of rocks in the North Atlantic region largely of Devonian age. The most common sandstones have various shades of red, caused by iron oxide (rust). This is a sedimentary rock formed by the cementation of grains of sand. The usual cementing material in sandstone is calcium carbonate, iron oxides, or silica, and the hardness of sandstone varies according to the character of the cementing material. Unfortunately it is very porous and the Pictou variety is neither hard nor resistant to weathering. Shale which is compacted, cemented mud, does much better than sandstone and is the most common sedimentary rock in Lunenburg County.

The changing face of the continents and waterways created unfortunate events for plants and animals. We have little solid fossil evidence of Precambrian losses, but know that there have been five mass extinctions since the Cambrian. Flood basalt events (volcano eruptions), asteroid collisions, and sea level falls are the most likely causes. The Ordovician/Silurian event is blamed on the rise of the Appalachians. newly exposed silcate rock sucked up water, dropped sea level and brought on a short but damaging ice age. That Late Devonian loss is blamed on the development of land plants releasing unwanted nutrients into the oceans. The Permian Extinction  was a time of "Great Drying" which nearly spelled endgame. Vulcanism set life back by about 300 million years. The Triassic event in Nova Scotia to a fossilized graveyard of species where paleontologists still come to unearth their remains.  The Cretaceous Event, which took out dinosaurs, started with climate change and volcanic activity ended with a asteroid strike which sealed their fate.

Black lines are rivers. The beaches and cliffs of today house the world’s largest collection of fossils from the Triassic/Jurassic period. They are virtually brimming with dinosaur and crocodilian remains. In a violent breakup of Nortn America from Laurasia 180 million years ago, volcanic outpourings released huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and caused a rapid and disastrous change in climate, one of the main factors behind the mass extinction.

Nova Scotia had lots of Triassic creatures but only a few  speciessurvived into the Jurrasic Period. Climate change, flood basalt eruptions and an asteroid impact have all been blamed for this loss of life. Increasingly it seems that cojoined factors led to that series of unfortunate events. The Triassic/Jurrasic Extinction event opened up  habitat eventually leading to The Age of Mammals.

That was the world that was at that time, drifting off into more contemporary siteing of the continents. "Pangea" has been abandoned for "Rodinia" in modern geological parlance. This was divorce time.

What followed was a 400,000 year depression of global temperatures. That cooling trend led to drop on oceanic levels as more and more water became ice bound at the poles. At that time Nova Scotia had massive real estate but no one was buying!

In review: There are basically two terranes, the Avalon in the north east and the Meguma in the south west, with an extensive fault system (hopefully inactiv
e) between them.  The Bay of Fundy opened along thes lines but the Atlantic Ocean developed south and east of the Meguma.Notice that there are "basement rocks" at the surface in both terranes, but the latter shows few fossils since it developed in cold Antarctic waters. Batholiths are intrusive igneous rocks.

The last glacial period, popularly known as the Ice Age, occurred from c. 110,000 – c. 11,700 years ago. This most recent glacial period is part of a larger pattern of glacial and interglacial periods known as the Quaternary glaciation. In North America, this last glacial maximum is known as the Wisconsinan. As it went into retreat, groups of humans from Asia were able to re-establish contact with the Americas. Previously, and at its extreme, Nova Scotia (orange dot) was uninhabitable.

Here is a look at the local situation 21 thousand years before the present, not long ago in geologic time. Yjis would be just beyond the maximum spread of that ice sheet. The dotted lined indicate areas where the ice was piled highest; the solid lines inter glacial rivers emptying into the Atlantic. As the land was depressed by a massive overburden of ice, the land area in areas away from the coast would have been much reduced from the present day situation, but offshe islands, now submerged as  shallow fishing banks were beginning to emerge.


A few thousand years later, the possibilities for human habitation were improved although ice had not completely melted from the land. The first inhabitants were only on the ground for 500 years and there was no occupation of this area during the Great Hiatus.

The Younger Dryas warming event which allowed them to exist at the edge of glaciation ended on a sudden cold note, which brought back the ice fo another lengthy visit.

Although this settlement was only half way between the equator and the pole it was never "cottage country" before the Younger/Dryas extinction event, which spelled the end for woolly mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers and severely inconvenienced Homo sapiens. The currently popular impact hypothesis states that the air bursts or impacts of a swarm of comet fragments set areas of the North American continent on fire, causing the extinction of most of the megafauna in North America and the demise of the North American Clovis culture. Locally, the Bloody Creek crater, not far from Debert has been suggested as evidence of that bombardment.

The Younger Dryas ice age lasted for about 1,200 years before the climate warmed again and repopulation took place. With the land rebounding from the removal of glacial oice, Maritime Canada had much more real estate then. Woodlands ultimately replaced the tundra.

The various tribes who settled the area were hunter/gatherers and the agricultural possibilities of the glacial soils were not of great importance to them. For this storyit need only be noted  that Pictou County soil was left reasonably fertile and especially suitable for root crops.

The Mi'kmaqy or Mi'gmaq are a First Nations people indigenous to Canada's Atlantic Provinces and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec. They call their national territory Mi'kma'ki. This painting shows an idealized version of their life style after European contact. The Mi'kmaq seem to have first referred to themselves simply as the Lnu or "People." By the time of the white incursion in 1604,  they were part of the Alongquin confederacy which stretched along the eastern coat of America from Labrador to Virginia.

The splash page of the Pictou County Mi'kmaq explains that the local Piskwa were traditional fishers, hunters and gatherers located around a small tidal estuary connected by a narrow channel to the Northumberland Strait near what is now known as Pictou Landing. "It was near this estuary that the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation lived on a seasonal basis. The estuary was a bountiful source of a variety of food including fish, eels, crustaceans and shellfish. They hunted and trapped near its shores. The estuary provided a safe harbour for vessels and a sheltered recreational area." A long series of unfortunate events culimated when the British Crown dispossessed them of their land in 1828. "

"In 1864 the Province finally acquired 50 acres of land near A’Se’K (using “Indian money” from the sale of “Indian lands” in Cape Breton) and set it apart for the exclusive use and enjoyment of the ancestors of the Pictou Landing First Nation, who numbered 159 at the time." By 1964 this had been increased to 691 acres and included land at Boat Harbour. After that coal shipment rail line was shut down, Lighthouse Point became a popular sand beach.
In need of additional revenues, First Nation had established a canteen near the beach and had plans to further develop their lands along the Northumberland Strait to take advantage of its location as a vacation site. They never got the chance!

Pick-toe is the commonplace pronounciation. Those definitions are polite. It has been claimed that Prince Henry Sinclair landed in Guysborough County in 1398 and annexed North America to his domain,  the Orkney Islands. He sent a group of minions northwest along the coast to examine reports of a smoking hill. Eight days later they returned to report that the hill was not volcanic but that a hole in the ground thre was belching gases near a spring of pitch which ran into the sea. Smoking hills are not an unknown phenomena and many are caused by coal burning underground. Some have contended that this was observed in Pictou County, which is a possibility.

This is near Fanklin Bay in the Canadian Arctic. Some Pictou County coal did have a low sulphur content, but some burned with a rotten-egg smell. George Patterson, a local historian, interviewed Peter Toney "one of the oldest of the Micmacs in Pictou," and was given another polite explanation: "Miskeak Bucto," he suggested meant "Big Fire," and described an ecampment at West River destroyed while the tribe was relocated inland. He guessed that the whites had, as usual, corrupted the names and applied the new name to the whole harbour.

Another source noted that when coal was first found on the East River it was uncovered beneath four to six feet of burt clay and ash upon which hemlocks were growing. Aboriginals confirmed that a fire had burned there for a very long time. Phio Antiquarious and one Mr. Howe argued that it meant a large interior vessel with a narrow opening, "a bottle." Native sources confirmed that it probably referred to Pictou Harbou which has a narrow connection with open water. Patterson wryly noted that the Mi'kmaq were an agreeable lot and probably, "assented to it, whether to please us or because it was correct is not quite certain." In the above case, underground fire is thought to have persisted for centuries.
The fires result from autoignition of sulfur-rich lignite deposits. "Although the soil of the region contains much limestone, the buffer effect has completely disappeared." Which means, it stinks, big time!

Trudy Sable and Bernie Francis lauched their Mi'kmaw Place Names Digital Atlas in 1915, helping to sully the air on this subject: "It's the expulsion of gas, human gas, and that's where we get the word Picto," says Bernie. Francis guesses that the community may have been named after the bad smelling naturally occuring sulphur deposits in the area.To be b;unt it is "the Mi'kmaq word for fart. Some of those other explanations have correspondence in this context. "Only about one percent of a fart contains hydrogen sulfide gas and mercaptans, which contain sulfur, and the sulfur is what makes farts stink." It can be explosive when it mixes with air. It is not just mammals which pass noxious gases.

Digestion is usually thought of as the process of breaking down food by mechanical and enzymatic action in the alimentary canal into substances that can be used by animals. However, secondarily, it is the process of treating a substance by means of heat, enzymes, or a solvent to promote decomposition or extract essential components outside the body of animals.  The kraft paper process does just this and it can be odiferous.

"One type of odor comes from a special technique - called kraft pulping - which uses heat and chemicals to pulp wood chips for making paper. This reaction produces gaseous sulfur compounds called "total reduced sulfur" or TRS gases. The odor associated with TRS gases is typically described as "rotten cabbage" or "rotten eggs." Various byproducts containing hydrogen sulfide, methyl mercaptan, dimethyl sulfide, dimethyl disulfide, and other volatile sulfur compounds are the cause of the malodorous air emissions characteristic for pulp mills utilizing the kraft process.
The wastewater effluent can also be a major source of pollution, containing lignins from the trees, high biological oxygen demand (BOD) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC), along with alcohols, chlorates, heavy metals, and chelating agents." And that is what has been afflicting Pictou County for decades. Pictou  has been appropriately named!

Next time around the block, a brief history of continuing changes with the coming of white settlers to Pictou County. There is a lot to love about the geography and development of communities on the Northumberland coast, but it is still subject ot the evolution of the unintended, and a lot of misfortune has fallen upon folks there, enshrouded as they are in "the sweet smell of success." The County Motto is "Forward Together." Meanwhile, New Glasgow has abanded "One Hundred Thousand Welcomes" in Gaelic for the English word, "Flourish." Only Pictou Township remembers that it was "The Birthplace of New Scotland."