The expedition uncovered the fossils in 2004 in a remote valley of Ellesmere Island, more than 600 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in Canada's Nunavut Territory. It was the fourth summer they had spent there amassing a diverse array of fossil fish dating to the late Devonian Period (380-365 million years ago). Tantalizing fragments uncovered in 2000 convinced the scientists to return to the site.
The fossils were recovered from the layered rock of the so-called Fram Formation, the deposits of meandering stream systems formed some 375 million years ago when North America was part of a supercontinent straddling the equator. These fossils and previously known fossil relatives suggest the evolution from fish to tetrapod occurred on this landmass. "This kind of shallow stream system seems to be the place where many features of land living animals first arose," said Daeschler.
The skeletal structure of Tiktaalik and the nature of the deposits where it was found suggest an animal that lived on the bottom of shallow waters and perhaps even out of the water for short periods. "The skeleton of Tiktaalik indicates that it could support its body under the force of gravity whether in very shallow water or on land," said Dr. Farish A. Jenkins of Harvard University, another collaborator. "This represents a very critical early phase in the evolution of all limbed animals, including us."
Naming the fossils
Instead of using the traditional Latin or Greek to name the fossil, the team consulted Nunavut residents, who suggested Tiktaalik (tic-TA-lick), the Inuktikuk word for large, shallow water fish. The second part of the name, roseae, honors an anonymous supporter. Other funding came from the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society and the researchers' home institutions.