CBC Digital Archives

Miguasha National Park: home of the first land animal

Wonders of nature and marvels made by people stretch all across Canada. From a preserved Haida village in B.C. through Alberta's rich dinosaur fossil grounds to old Quebec City and a Viking settlement in Newfoundland, 15 remarkable Canadian places have been deemed World Heritage sites by the United Nations. CBC Digital Archives takes a tour of some of these internationally recognized national treasures.

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Until 1982, no one would have believed that the first land animal appeared on the shores on what is now eastern Quebec. But now, a rocky area famed for its fossil fish has unearthed the skull of a tetrapod, a four-legged amphibian. This discovery has rocked the world of paleontology, because scientists had previously determined that the first land animal originated in Greenland. But ... "The rocks of Miguasha are 20 million years older than the ones of Greenland," says Marius Arsenault, director of natural history for Miguasha National Park, in this CBC Radio clip.
• The Miguasha area first caught the world's attention in 1842 when Abraham Gesner discovered fossils there. Gesner, a geologist and medical doctor, and a pioneer in the petroleum industry, gave his array of important fossils to the British Museum and Royal Scottish Museum.
  • In 1985 the government of Quebec created Miguasha National Park, which is located on the Gaspé Peninsula. Miguasha's museum features a collection of over 9,000 specimens of fossil fish and plants from the park. Its coastal cliffs are composed of sedimentary rock that is 350 to 375 million years old.

• In 1999, the park was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

• On its website, UNESCO gives its reasoning for the designation: "In its representation of vertebrate life, Miguasha is the most outstanding fossil site in the world for illustrating the Devonian as the "Age of Fishes". The area is of paramount importance in having the greatest number and best preserved fossil specimens found anywhere in the world of the lobe-finned fishes that gave rise to the first four-legged, air-breathing terrestrial vertebrates -- the tetrapodes."

Medium: Radio
Program: Quirks & Quarks
Broadcast Date: March 13, 1982
Guest(s): Marius Arsenault, Hans-Peter Schultze
Host: Jay Ingram
Duration: 7:05
Photo: This image by Neumeier is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Last updated: February 16, 2012

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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