Miguasha National Park (1999)

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The palaeontological site of Miguasha National Park, in south-eastern Quebec on the southern coast of the Gaspé peninsula, is considered to be the world's most outstanding illustration of the Devonian Period known as the 'Age of Fishes'. 

Canada 1991. Miguasha National Park. Pre-historic life #1.

Dating from 370 million years ago, the Upper Devonian Escuminac Formation represented here contains five of the six fossil fish groups associated with this period. 

Its significance stems from the discovery there of the highest number and best-preserved fossil specimens of the lobe-finned fishes that gave rise to the first four-legged, air-breathing terrestrial vertebrates – the tetrapods. 

  • Canada 1991. Pre-historic life. Fossils found in Miguasha National Park. 

The second set of four commemorative stamps in the four-year series entitled "Prehistoric Life in Canada" will be released on April 5, 1991 in se-tenant miniature sheets of 20 stamps. The series is chronological and covers an interval of time from 1900 million to 10,000 years ago. The first four stamps in this series were issued as 39-cent denominations on July 12, 1990. This year the stamps depict organisms from approximately 380 to 270 million years ago which have been discovered fossilized in different parts of the country. The second stamp shows Eusthenopteron foordi, a prehistoric type of bony, lobe-finned fish. It lived during the Devonian Period the Age of Fish - about 370 million years ago. It had lungs and powerful paired fins, suggesting a form of limbs which may have enabled it to crawl of land. This fish may have been ancestral to the amphibians the first terrestrial vertebrates. 

Canada 1991. Miguasha National Park. Pre-historic life #2. Canada 1991. Miguasha National Park. Pre-historic life #3. Canada 1991. Miguasha National Park. Pre-historic life #4.

Some 370 million years ago, what is today the austere coast of the Gaspé Peninsula was a tropical estuary. The craggy peaks of the Appalachians lined the horizon. Primitive trees, scorpions and spiders covered the land. In the warm tidal waters, an astonishing variety of fish thrived. Some were spiny, some armour-plated. Others had lungs and pairs of lobe-like fins that enabled them to crawl across mud flats- and enact one of the major steps in evolution, when fish evolved into four-limbed animals.

We know this today because a two-million-year snapshot of life at the time is preserved in the remarkably rich fossil beds of the Escuminac Formation, which is exposed in a seaside cliff at Miguasha, on the south shore of the Gaspé facing Baie des Chaleurs. There are some 60 such Devonian period fossil sites around the world. But none matches Miguasha in abundance of specimens, quality of fossil preservation and representation of evolutionary events for vertebrates. It is the only Devonian site on the World Heritage List.

There is sufficient biodiversity at Miguasha - scores of species of vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, algae and micro-organisms - for scientists to have constructed an almost complete picture of Devonian life. But it is the 21 species of fish fossils that made Miguasha famous, none more so than Eusthenopteron foordi, the “Prince of Miguasha,” whose limb-like fins and two-way gills-and-lungs respiratory system gave rise to the modern conception of evolution from fish to four-limbed, land-dwelling vertebrates, or tetrapods.

The Miguasha fossil beds were discovered in 1842. Starting in the 1880s, thousands of fossil specimens were collected and shipped to museums and universities around the world, helping to confirm the site’s scientific importance. 

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in Canada (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section Canada for further information about such sites. 

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Revised 03 aug 2006  
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