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Finding fossils takes us to the far reaches of the world

map of North America & Nunavut map of Ellesmere Island and Field Site

Tiktaalik hails from the North Pole

Tiktaalik was discovered in Devonian-aged rocks of Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada. This land is ideal for fossil hunting because unlike much of the rest of North America, there is very little vegetation due to the extreme winter temperatures, the short growing season, and the permafrost. With rock faces exposed, it's easy to spot fossils eroding out of the sediments.

Collecting the fossils is a slow and delicate process

Once an area has been identified as having a high concentration of interesting fossils, the layer containing the fossils is uncovered and the collection process begins. Fossils are carefully exposed using brushes and dental picks. Since time in the field is limited (the summer is only a few weeks long) fossils must be collected in a block of rock to be exposed and cleaned up later in the lab.

Transporting the fossils 3000+miles back to the research facilities is no small feat. The rocks containing the fossils are encased in plaster, helicoptered out of the site, and then shipped in large wooden boxes to the lab. There, over the course of several months, they are slowly removed from the rock by fossil preparators. Then they can be studied, photographed, drawn, and replicated for research programs and museum exhibits. Eventually, all fossils are returned to the nations in which they were found.

Meet the field crews who collect the fossils