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Text: "Puijila" in Inuktitut. Puijila: A Prehistoric Walking Seal. Photo collage: Scheuchzer's cotton-grass (Eriophorum scheuchzeri), the research team at work in the field, a reconstruction of the Puijila darwini fossil, an ejector block in the Haughton Crater, two palaeontologists shaking a dry screen.
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Home > The Fossil & The Breakthrough > The Fossil - page 1

The Fossil

The Specimen

The fossil skeleton of the new carnivore species Puijila darwini was excavated from a 24 to 20 million-year-old lake deposit in Canada's High Arctic. The location is just inside the Haughton Crater—a meteor-impact site—on Devon Island, Nunavut.

Image 1) The Puijila darwini fossil, collection number NUFV405.

The holotype of Puijila darwini. Collection number: NUFV405

Most of the specimen was found in 2007, and the palaeontologists returned in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to look for more (Read the tale of luck and adventure).

About 80% of the skeleton was collected, including much of the skull, neck, tail and limb bones. Even small bones such as toes and claws were recovered.

Judging by the teeth and overall skeleton, the animal appears to have been normal and mostly healthy. The only obvious abnormality appears to be an old break on the first toe on the left hind foot. The toe shows unusual bone growth that suggests that the area had been injured at one time.

An Important Fossil

The fossil is very important to science because it serves as the basis for describing the new species Puijila darwini. As such, the skeleton is referred to as the holotype. This is the specimen upon which identification of any other potential Puijila specimens will be based.

This fossil is also making an important contribution to our understanding of how pinnipeds (true seals, sea lions and the walrus) evolved from terrestrial to semi-aquatic to marine forms. Puijila appears to be an early transitional form in the freshwater, semi-aquatic phase. Additional research aims to resolve where Puijila fits in the pinniped family tree. It seems that a Puijila-like ancestor gave rise to both Puijila and to flippered pinnipeds.

It's a Boy!

Image 2) The reconstructed skeleton of Puijila darwini.

The fossil skeleton includes a complete baculum (penis bone), so we know that this animal was male. The baculum is a characteristic of carnivores and many other mammals, but not humans.

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Image 4) Natalia Rybczynski holding the braincase of Puijila darwini (collection number NUFV405).