Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Rare Fossil Hailed as First Sign of Animal Muscle Showcased in St. John's Museum

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Rare Fossil Hailed as First Sign of Animal Muscle Showcased in St. John's Museum

Article excerpt

Exhibit showcases rare Newfoundland fossil


ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - With the flick of a switch, a nondescript piece of rock at The Rooms museum glows in an orange-red light that throws a fairly creepy image into stark relief.

You can see why the researchers who discovered this fossil, hailed as the only one of its kind in the world, named it after an aboriginal word meaning demon.

Haootia quadriformis (pronounced hay-oo-TEE'-ah quad-ruh-FORM'-iss) is believed to be the earliest evidence of animal muscle tissue in the geological record. "Haootia" is from the term haoot or demon in the Beothuk indigenous language of Newfoundland. "Quadriformis" refers to four arm-like extensions from a body that appears to feature muscle tissue. Scientists say the deep-sea organism might be related to jellyfish.

The fossil now housed in a small glass case in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital is estimated to be 560 million years old. It was chiselled by hand in September from a coastal rock near Port Union, N.L., on the Bonavista Peninsula to preserve it from erosion and damage in fierce storms.

It's an ancient piece of evolutionary evidence that has been celebrated by science writers and other media around the globe. As of Wednesday, it will be on display as part of a permanent exhibit at The Rooms.

"We have quite a significant amount of fossils in the province," said Anne Chafe, director of the provincial museum division.

"It really is helping to shape understanding of how the world was formed and how species and animals evolved over time."

Chafe used what's called a raking light to illuminate the rock at such an angle that the shallow fossil impression "pops."

Alex Liu, now a postdoctoral researcher at University of Bristol in England, recalled how in August 2008 he and an undergraduate assistant, Jack Matthews, realized they might have found something special.

They returned 10 days later on Aug. 31 with Liu's former Oxford University supervisor, now retired paleontologist Martin Brasier. It was a foggy, damp day as Brasier descended a few ledges to the seaside rock bed, Liu said from Bristol.

"As he was stepping down he put his foot next to this fossil and realized that it was something very different. …

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