A simple rock formation located in British Colombia, Canada, may not seem like much to the untrained eye, but to Charles Doolittle Walcott and other paleontologists, it is a treasure trove of thousands of uniquely preserved fossils. Millions of years ago, North America rested on the equator. Earth was still too young for terrestrial plants and animals to inhabit the hostile land; instead, they dwelled in the sea where a vast array of organisms thrived. The fossil records beautifully preserved in the shale rock, tell the story of the Cambrian Explosion, a period where organisms evolved at an explosive rate into many diverse creatures that are the ancestors to many of the organisms today, including humans. Over the past century, the Burgess Shale has unearthed new books to earth’s history and still holds new secrets for scientist to find. The discovery of the rock formation shook the foundations of the science community at the time, and revolutionized their understanding of evolution. The Burgess Shale is the best fossil site in the world due to the various collections of detailed fossils, and the influence of the fossil field on evolutionary knowledge.
It was a warm summer day in 1909 when Charles Doolittle Walcott stumbled across a strange rock formation dotted with smooth rocks that he recognized as fossilized crustaceans. The Smithsonian secretary took note of them and returned to camp to share the news. Calling the discovery a “find” is an understatement. Over the following 15 years, Walcott made seven more trips to the site and collected over 65,000 specimens from the Burgess Shale which are now maintained in the Smithsonian Institute. The most prominent fossil he discovered, or rather his son discovered was Sidneyia inexpectans meaning “Sidney’s discovery”. Modern sciences have reconstructed the animal as eighteen legged, layered plate shelled crustacean, which is much different from Walcott’s theorized description of the organism in 1910. The...
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