Burgess Shale - first hunters

The Burgess Shale Formation in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada, is one of the world's most celebrated fossil fields. It is famous for the exceptional preservation quality of its fossils which are more than 500 million years old. The rock unit of the fossil bed is black shale, exposed at the surface of the earth in many places within the Yoho National Park, where the formation is located.

This fossil landscape was discovered by paleontologist Charles Walcott in 1909. He established a quarry there and kept returning and collecting fossils until the end of his life in 1927. Walcott amassed over 65,000 specimens. Describing the fossils was a vast task and Walcott, led by scientific opinion at the time, attempted to categorize them into living taxonomic groups.As a result, the fossils were regarded as little more than curiosity during his lifetime and for a considerable period thereafter.

In the second half of the 20th century, a second quarry was opened and a thorough reassessment of the Burgess Shale showed that its fauna was much more varied than Walcott had realized. The Ontario Museum now has the largest collection of Burgess Shale material in the world, with more than 150,000 specimens. Many of the extinct animals had bizarre anatomical features and only the slightest resemblance to other known animals. For example, Opabinia regalis, a soft-bodied seafloor invertebrate, had five eyes and a snout like a vacuum cleaner hose.

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