Prehistoric tetrapod skeleton found in N.W.T

The discovery of a prehistoric tetrapod skeleton near Enterprise, Northwest Territories has paleontologists excited.

380-million-year-old find excites scientific community

Researchers are excited by the discovery of what's believed to be a tetrapod skeleton behind Louise Falls near Hay River, N.W.T. (Photo courtest Bruce Green)

A prehistoric discovery near Enterprise, Northwest Territories has paleontologists talking.

A piece of what researchers from the Royal Tyrrell Museum think could be part of a ribcage of a tetrapod from the Devonian Era was found at the base of Louise Falls near Hay River.

Tetrapods — derived from the ancient Greek words for "four" and "feet" — were the first vertebrates to have four limbs which allowed them to live on land. The Devonian Era occurred 360 to 380 million years ago. One line of scientific thought holds that many human traits, such as skulls, limbs and fingers and toes could have evolved from these animals around that time.

Significant find

Donald Henderson is with the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta. He says if the ribcage does turn out to be what he thinks it is, it would be a significant find.

"These things are unbelievably rare," Henderson says. "The reason they're newsworthy is because they're so rare. We don't find this stuff everyday. Sometimes you wait years. It'll be hard to match."

Henderson was in Hay River last week to remove the fossil from underneath the falls He says it could take months to come up with an idea of what kind of animal the ribs belong to.

The discovery comes on the heels of a similar one just last year when prehistoric tracks were discovered upstream. Henderson thinks they may belong to a rhizodont ​— a six-metre-long carnivorous lung fish that had limbs that could help them push off in shallow water.