This unusual object is actually a fossilised ‘armoured’ fish from the Middle Devonian period, which is often termed ‘the Age of the Fishes’. It was towards the end of the Devonian period that fish crawled out onto land and would evolve into myriad land-dwelling creatures.
This fish lived in a large lake. When it died it was preserved within layers of sediment being laid down within the lake. These layers of sediment were buried deeply until they were ‘lithified’ meaning they became rock.
When the rock containing the fish was split open by a fossil collector, both the preserved fish and an impression of the fish were found in what are termed the part and counterpart of a fossil. This fossil was found just to the south of Nairn and was given to Nairn Museum by the Earl of Cawdor.
The fish itself was named Pterichthyodes milleri, with the epithet ‘milleri’ honouring the highly-influential Scottish geologist Hugh Miller whose reputation was built on his research into these and similar specimens. Miller was a prolific Victorian writer, penning vast numbers of academic papers and articles and ensuring that attention was given to Highland geology and the fossils it contains.
The name of the fish gives further insights into the fossil itself with pterichthys, from which its name is derived, meaning winged-fish in ancient Greek. For those with some knowledge of the age of the dinosaurs you will also recognise the use of ‘pter’ in pterodactyl, a winged reptile of the Jurassic period.