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Symbiartic


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Largest Assemblage of Cambrian Fossils Since 1909 Discovered in British Columbia

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Much of what we know about the diversification of body plans that happened starting 540-million years ago (commonly known as the Cambrian Explosion) comes from the famous Burgess Shale formation. The original site, located in Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies, was discovered by paleontologist Charles Walcott in 1909. The site has produced an enormous cache of marine animals, so much so that it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981.

This week, researchers from Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum announced a second Burgess Shale Formation site nearby which is as rich, if not richer, than the 1909 original. In just 15 days, the team collected thousands of beautifully preserved specimens representing more than 50 species, several of which are new to science. The circumstances of their fossilization preserved an unprecedented level of detail, particularly in the elusive soft-tissues that are so often lost to time:

new arthropod

New arthropod from the new Burgess Shale site in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Royal Ontario Museum)

Polychaete worm

Polychaete worm from the new Burgess Shale site in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Royal Ontario Museum)

Molaria

Molaria from the new Burgess Shale site in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Royal Ontario Museum)

Haplophrentis

Haplophrentis from the new Burgess Shale site in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Royal Ontario Museum)

Marrella

Marrella from the new Burgess Shale site in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Royal Ontario Museum)

Naraoia

Naraoia from the new Burgess Shale site in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Royal Ontario Museum)

new arthropod

New leanchoilid arthropod from the new Burgess Shale site in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Robert R. Gaines, Pomona College)

Marrella splendens

Marrella splendens from the new Burgess Shale site in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Michael Streng, Uppsala University)

And lest you’re taken with these 504-million year old creatures emerging from the rocks, don’t forget to look up and take in the scenery:

campsite

The researchers' campsite in Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park, BC (image courtesy of Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Royal Ontario Museum)

More on the Burgess Shale from the ROM
The Burgess Shale and Yoho National Park via Parks Canada

ResearchBlogging.orgCaron JB, Gaines RR, Aria C, Mángano MG, & Streng M (2014). A new phyllopod bed-like assemblage from the Burgess Shale of the Canadian Rockies. Nature communications, 5 PMID: 24513643

Kalliopi Monoyios About the Author: Kalliopi Monoyios is an independent science illustrator. She has illustrated several popular science books including Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within, and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Find her at www.kalliopimonoyios.com. Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. Owl905 12:10 am 02/14/2014

    The discovery not only rivals the original shelf; both in numbers and quality it may surpass it. Imagine finding a 530myo liver. It’s described by the discovery team as “a mother lode”.

    http://www.livescience.com/43270-new-burgess-shale-fossils-canada.html

    http://www.livescience.com/43264-gallery-amazing-cambrian-fossils-from-canada.html

    The new site is providing a comparison point between the original Shale and an older similar site in China. It’s more than even a great new discovery – it’s a potential Rosetta Stone to deciphering the Cambrian Radiation.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Jerzy v. 3.0. 5:02 am 02/14/2014

    Cool discoveries! This early period of life history was so different as life on another planet.

    Link to this

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