M u s e u m  C r e a t e d  L e s s o n

The Ancient Arctic

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Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Ontario

Learning about a Prehistoric Arctic
In this lesson, students will have the opportunity to explore Arctic fossils. Through their explorations, students will develop an understanding of how the environment can effect evolutionary change.

Lesson framework and materials:
- This lesson should cover 1 full class period for grades 11-12.
- Access to a computer and the internet.
- A notebook to write down observations and reflections.
A Prehistoric Arctic
Canadian Museum of Nature
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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
The Continental Drift
Canadian Museum of Nature
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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
The Devonian Period
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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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
The Cretaceous Period
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.

Canadian Museum of Nature




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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
The Miocene Epoch
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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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
Hadrosaur
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.

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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
Coryphodon
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.

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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
Puijila darwini
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.

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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
The Discovery of a New Species
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.
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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
A Land Mammal Ready for the Sea
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.
Canadian Museum of Nature
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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
A Hunter in the 24 Hour Darkness
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.
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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
Tiktaalik roseae
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.

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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
Canadaga arctica
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.

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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
Nunavutospongia irregulara
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.

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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
Larix groenlandii
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




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Learning Object: The Ancient Arctic
Suggested Activity
Bring in fossils to show the class and discuss how fossils are formed in nature.
Have students think about the following:

Specific questions:
- What information can fossils tell us?
- Where are fossils found?
- What types of fossils are highlighted in this lesson?
- How do fossils link to evolution?

General questions:
- What interested you the most?
- What is one thing you would like to know more about?

Have a class discussion based around reflection questions.
Have students choose one of the species presented in the lesson and research it further.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

- 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.