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29 October 2014
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The little village of Cowie, just north of Stonehaven, may seem like the kind of quiet place where nothing dramatic has ever occurred, but the rocks sitting at the harbour in Cowie hid a quite remarkable secret.

For 12 years Kemnay resident, Aberdeen bus driver and amateur palaeontologist, Mike Newman, had been chiselling away at rocks in the Stonehaven area more in hope than expectation until, in 2003, he discovered something which was to change our conceptions about the evolution of life on this planet.

A millipede less than a centimetre long may not sound like the most dramatic discovery ever made, but when it is a fossil over 420 million years old then it becomes a different matter altogether.

Sculptures in Cowie
Sculptures in Cowie

This remarkable animal is 20 million years older than any other air breathing creature found, and as such has forced scientists into a radical rethink of when the great migration of life from the seas to the land began.

The fossil was sent to the National Museum of Scotland to be studied, and they called in experts from the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, who confirmed that it is the earliest form of life on dry land found. The millipede was then named Pneumodesmus (air breathing) Newmani, after its discoverer.

At the time that Pneumodesmus Newmani was scuttling about Cowie, it was part of the continent of Laurentia, and was crawling through a tropical, southern hemisphere paradise - rather different in climate to Stonehaven today.

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