The Earth’s geological history has changed drastically over millions of years.  The continents were in different locations and various species, now extinct, or have changed with evolution, thrived.

Today, the Arctic is a cold and snowy region during the winter and warm during the summer.  Millions of years ago, Canada’s Arctic was a very different place.  The Arctic was a hot, tropical and humid place with warm waters.
The Earth’s geological history has changed drastically over millions of years.  The continents were in different locations and various species, now extinct, or have changed with evolution, thrived.

Today, the Arctic is a cold and snowy region during the winter and warm during the summer.  Millions of years ago, Canada’s Arctic was a very different place.  The Arctic was a hot, tropical and humid place with warm waters.

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

The Earth is constantly changing.  Over millions of years the planet’s continents have shifted and continue to do so today.  This geological phenomenon is known as the Continential Drift.

Associated with these drifts are specific geological time periods when air temperature and life on Earth was very different than present day.

The Earth is constantly changing.  Over millions of years the planet’s continents have shifted and continue to do so today.  This geological phenomenon is known as the Continential Drift.

Associated with these drifts are specific geological time periods when air temperature and life on Earth was very different than present day.


© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.

A map of the world showing the location of the Earth's continents as being closer together and near the equator.

The land masses that now make up the Arctic were not always at the top of the planet. During the Devonian period (around 400 million years ago), the Arctic was actually much closer to the equator than present day.

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A map of the world showing the continents shifting away from one another and the equator.

During the Cretaceous Period (a period that began around 145 million years ago), the landmass that is now the Arctic began moving further north, although the climate was still very temperate.

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© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A map of the world showing the continents shifting to a location similar to that of present day.

During the Miocene Epoch (a time that began around 23 million years ago) the Earth's continents were in a location similar to that of present day. The Arctic also began to cool.

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© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A colourful illustration of a dinosaur in a forest.

It may not seem like it now, but 65 million years ago dinosaurs lived and roamed the Canadian Arctic during a time period known as the Cretaceous period. Hadrosaurs are also called "duck-billed" dinosaurs due to their head that resembles a modern-day duck. Roaming the Arctic, they chewed the lush vegetation with their long flattened snouts and many teeth.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A close up of a reconstruction of a fossil skull.

Watch this visual reconstruction of a Hadrosaur's skull.

3-Dimensional Visualization of the Feeding Mechanism in Edmontosaurus regalis.
Bone reconstruction.

Lateral displacement of the Upper Tooth Rows.

Lateral displacement of the Quadrate/Dentary Joint.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A reconstruction of Coryphodon in a forest.

The Coryphodon (its scientific name) was a large mammal that roamed the Arctic from 51 to 59 million years ago, becoming one of the largest mammals to exist in the area since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Living in warm swampy forests, this creature moved slowly and had very strong neck muscles, short tusks and short legs.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


An illustration of Puijila darwini swimming underwater.

About three feet long, Puijila darwini is a missing link that represents the transition between some land creatures of the early Miocene epoch and modern day seals. It provides a fossil record for how some mammals—adapted for land— in essence, returned back to the sea.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A view from a distance of three people kneeling on the ground.

Puijila darwini (its scientific name) represents a “missing link”—a branch on an evolutionary tree—between an ancestor that walked on land and today's sea-going seals and their relatives.

Natalia Rybczynski:
This is an expedition that I led with Dr. Mary Dawson at the Carnegie Museum and by the end of that season we’d actually discovered what, in fact, turned out to be a new animal.
It was a new carnivore, a mammal, and we’d found by the end of 2007 about 65% of the skeleton.
So in 2008 we went back to the site with the hopes of finding the brain case and, in fact, we did.

Claudia Schroder-Adams, PhD
Professor, Carleton University:
I think that this recent discovery has made quite a splash in the palaeontological world. It will address evolution in a big way.

Canadian Museum of Nature

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A close up of a woman with brown hair sitting in front of fossils.

As both a land and sea mammal, Puijila darwini had to survive in two very different environments. It had to be a fast swimmer in the water and a fast runner on land. To do this, it had webbed feet with five fully formed fingers and toes. This allowed it to not only swim in the ocean but also to run on land to potentially catch prey and evade predators.

Natalia Rybczynski:
What we’re looking at is an animal that is between a terrestrial ancestor and the marine-type seals - flippered seals - that we see today.
One of the first things that we did is we actually started scanning all of the bones of the skeleton and also the skull.
So using 3D animation we were able to, for example, reassemble the skull and, in the end, we could do the whole skeleton.
Puijila lived in the High Arctic 24 to 20 million years ago.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A close up of a woman with brown hair sitting in front of fossils.

To adapt to this extremely difficult condition, Puijila darwini evolved with huge eyes in order to see its prey. It also developed long whiskers so that it could feel for fish in the darkness of deep and murky waters.

Natalia Rybczynski:
It would also have big eyes and this is something that we see in seals today.
It could hunt in water, be very agile in the water – as otters and seals are today -- but we also see that, in fact, if you just look at the skeleton, it looks like a regular land mammal in a lot of ways. So it could also hunt on land.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


The fossilized remains of Tiktaalik roseae.

Tiktaalik roseae evolved to have some physical features similar to fish and other features similar to land-based, four-legged, vertebrates.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A neck vertebrate from Canadaga arctica.

This specific bird, Canadaga arctica (its scientific name), named after the Canadian Arctic region in which it was discovered, was a bird that lived in warm Arctic waters 80 million years ago.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A fossilized sponge called Nunavutospongia irregulara.

One particular animal that lived in the tropical waters of the Arctic millions of years ago is a species of sponge called Nunavutospongia irregulara (its scientific name). Not to be confused with the common household item found in your sink, sponges are simple animals with a hard outer body that contain numerous pores used for filtering water.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


A fossilized tree called Larix groenlandii.

A prehistoric tree currently housed at the Canadian Museum of Nature is the Larix groenlandii (its scientific name). This giant tree grew during a time known as the Pliocene era, which occurred 3 to 5 million years ago. During this time Canada’s Arctic was full of lush forests.

Canadian Museum of Nature

© 2013, Canadian Museum of Nature. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

- Familiarize himself/herself with palaeontological vocabulary.

- Discover the types of fossils found in the Arctic.

- Learn about the Arctic’s prehistoric environment.

- Develop an understanding of evolutionary change.

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