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Life Onto Land: The Devonian

November 11, 2023–September 29, 2024

life onto land the devonian graphic - an illustration with trees and water in the background

life onto land the devonian graphic - an illustration with trees and water in the background

You’ve likely heard of the Jurassic and the Cretaceous, but do you know about the Devonian? With its incredible diversity of terrestrial life, this fascinating period in geological history — hundreds of millions of years before the age of the dinosaurs — was pivotal in shaping the world as we know it today. All vertebrates living on land, including humans, stem from the remarkable creatures that began the move onto land in the Devonian Period. 

Life Onto Land: The Devonian centers around the Academy’s internationally celebrated paleontological research and the incredible discovery of Tiktaalik roseae. Unearthed in 2004 on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut, this transitional fossil has been critical in piecing together a picture of how fins became limbs — or, of how terrestrial, limbed vertebrates arose from aquatic, lobe-finned ancestors. 

This new exhibition features the original holotype specimen of Tiktaalik roseae and a newly commissioned Tiktaalik model by Tyler Keillor. See enchanting drawings by Spanish artist Aina Bestard, breathtaking footage of Arctic and Antarctic research sites and the vivid scientific illustrations of Scott Rawlins. Experience the stunning plant and animal fossils collected from Devonian rock found here in Pennsylvania and around the world.  

Life Onto Land reveals the diverse marine, freshwater swamp and terrestrial ecosystems of this period, as well as the amazing scientific discoveries of the Academy’s team of paleontologists who continue to contribute to our understanding of this transformational time in our planet’s history. 

All exhibits are included with the purchase of a general admission ticket.

Academy scientists spend their days exploring the natural world, caring for our collection of 19 million scientific specimens and working to solve the most pressing environmental issues facing our communities today. Make a gift to support their work.

Exhibit Highlights

Two adults take a closer look at fossils.
The skull and body of a tiktaalik fossil on display.
A statue of tiktaalik emerging from the water.
A mural painted of a devonian swamp along a wall infront of a tiktaalik statue.

Your Inner Fish

Your Inner Fish, Based on the book by Neil Shubin

Last Saturday of every month 1:30 p.m.

Have you ever wondered why our bodies look the way they do? Why our hands have five fingers instead of six? Why we walk on two legs instead of four?

In Your Inner Fish, paleontologists and Academy scientists delve deep into the past to answer these questions. The 2014 film series reveals a startling truth: hidden within the human body is a story of life on Earth.

It took more than 350 million years for the human body to form, and this history can be traced back to the water's edge where life moved onto land and fins became limbs. Each of us carries the genetic imprint of creatures that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. From them, we inherited our most remarkable features — as well as quirks, like bad backs and hernias.

Join us for a screening of Your Inner Fish and meet the ancestor you never knew you had. Based on a best-selling book by paleobiologist Neil Shubin, this scientific journey takes us from the Arctic Circle to Pennsylvania, searching the fossil record for the many ways that our animal ancestors shaped our anatomical destiny.

Learn how our hands evolved from the fins of prehistoric fish. Discover how our skin, hair and teeth can be linked to early reptiles and how our color vision is a legacy from ancient primates. Come face- –to -face with your "inner fish" in a completely new take on the human body.

After seeing the world through this evolutionary lens, you'll never look at yourself in quite the same way again!