The earliest known five-fingered foot

pentadactyl foot

Professor Jenny Clack, curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the Museum, writes about exciting fossil finds from Scotland:

This tiny fossil is either the hand or the foot (we can’t yet tell which) of a tetrapod from the Early Carboniferous of Scotland, about 350 million years old. It shows the earliest known pentadactyl – five digited – construction so far found in the fossil record. Animals from the preceding Devonian period , about 360 million years old, and for which we know their hands or feet, had more than five digits. Until this specimen was found, the earliest pentadactyl hand came from rocks about 330 million years old. It was also from Scotland, where many Carboniferous tetrapods have come from in the past.

Our ‘foot’ is part of a collection of fossils that are helping to fill in a previously conspicuous gap in the fossil record, known as Romer’s Gap, between the end-Devonian and the middle of the Early Carboniferous, a time interval of about 20 million years. During this time, tetrapods became increasingly adapted for walking on land, but how and when were more or less unknown. Our new studies have found many more fossils to help fill this gap, in the Borders Region of Scotland and in northern England.

Visit our website to find out more about this exciting project: www.tetrapodworld.com.

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