A 375-million-year-old fossil of a primitive fish that also sports features of the first four-limbed creatures is now in the hands of the Canadian Museum of Nature, the museum announced Tuesday.
The transitional fossil, known as Tiktaalik, has a flat head and a neck like tetrapods but also has fins, scales and gills like fish. Its discovery is said to have dramatically advanced our understanding of the evolution of finned to limbed animals.
American researchers discovered the fossil in 2004 on southern Ellesmere Island. Their subsequent studies garnered worldwide headlines for what the fossil reveals about the early evolution of vertebrates — when fish first ventured onto land.
Tiktaalik is the star of a group of fossils found in the high arctic and now brought home to Canada by the American scientists.
"Now that our primary research is completed, the return of these fossils to Canada and their access at the Canadian Museum of Nature makes new discoveries possible by other scientists with questions about the evolution of life," Edward (Ted) Daeschler, one of the researchers, said in a statement.
The fossils include about 60 specimens of Tiktaalik roseae, with three or four that show the skull, shoulders, and fins. Another 120 pieces of two other specimens of lobe-finned fossil fish dating from the Late Devonian Period are among them.
They will be officially housed at the museum in Gatineau, Que., on behalf of the government of Nunavut.
"The Canadian Museum of Nature is grateful to accept these fossils for future scientific research, where they will be curated as part of the Nunavut collections," said Mark Graham, museum vice-president.
Inuit elders in Nunavut named Tiktaalik, an Inuktitut term for burbot, a type of fish.