National Treasure #35: Burgess Shale

The Burgess Shale is a world renowned fossil site due in large part to . . .
the exquisite soft body preservation of the organisms.

Website of the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation

Umm, this is a bit icky, isn’t it?  Or even kinky?  “Exquisite soft body” preservation, indeed.

Well, it’s not icky, because it’s rock.

And it’s not kinky because it isn’t.  Folks who care about fossils are allowed to wax a tad rhapsodical about world-renowned fossil beds that are in Canada.  Even though there was no Canada when these now-fossilized creatures lived, about 505 million years ago.

If you want to see it, you can’t just wander in and take a look. Access to this UNESCO World Heritage Site is restricted and you need to go with a guide.

Parks Canada, though, does provide online views, which is not only kinda cool but also likely the way of the future for sensitive areas.

The Royal Ontario Museum also provides some good online resources, including a one-minute sea odyssey, a fossil gallery, and a summary of the history of its discovery. Who knew that it was linked to the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway?

Want to know more? Check out the Stephen Jay Gould book on the Burgess Shale.

And if you run into any American paleontologists, don’t hesitate to set them straight.

“The Burgess Shale contains the best record we have
of Cambrian animal fossils.”
University of Berkeley website

Dudes. Not sure who “we” is in this context.
The Burgess Shale is ours, all ours.  Wanna see it?  Book a guide, buddy.


This is one of a series on Canadian national treasures – my sesquicentennial project. They reflect people (living and dead), places and things that I think are worth celebrating about our country, and are done in no order of precedence.

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2 Comments

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Ralph – How are you seeing this a day early? Do you have an internet-wide alert on paleontological postings? But yes, add it to your list, right after the Shetlands.

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