Walcott’s Discovery and Subsequent Findings

Raymond's Quarry, named after Percy Raymond

Raymond's Quarry, named after Percy Raymond

Walcott's Quarry, the site of Walcott's original discovery
Walcott’s Quarry, the site of Walcott’s original discovery

                The history of the Burgess Shale’s discovery and subsequent designation as a World Heritage Site is a rich one.  It all began in Yoho National Park in 1909 when Charles D. Walcott, the world’s leading expert on fossils of the Cambrian time period, discovered a rich fossil bed full of never-before-seen creatures.  (Parks Canada, 2006)  Being an expert in the field, the great significance and future impact of this find dawned upon him, and excavations began the next summer.  This initial find, being dubbed “Walcott’s Quarry”, sparked excavations for 7 years afterwards, with 65000 fossil specimens being removed and sent to such prestigious institutes as the Smithsonian for study and display.  (Parks Canada, 2006)  After Walcott’s discovery, interest in the Burgess Shale increased exponentially.

                In 1930, Percy Raymond came upon an entirely new quarry of fossils with an entirely different combination and assortment of marine organisms, most likely due to it being a completely different marine environment than that of Walcott’s Quarry.  (Parks Canada, 2006)  After this, the Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) took interest in the site, sending a crew out in 1966 and 1967 to re-examine the Burgess Shale fossils to delve deeper into their importance in the realms of evolution, biology, and geology.  (Parks Canada, 2006)  A Cambridge professor by the name of Harry Whittington accompanied the GSC team, and 5 years later in 1972 he and two graduate students went over the original samples Walcott had excavated.  (Parks Canada, 2006)  Their work proved fruitful in learning more about the evolutionary relationships of the organisms, both in terms of relation to modern creatures and in terms of “failed” evolutionary trials.  Beginning in 1975 and going on into the 1980’s, the Royal Ontario Museum spent numerous field seasons collecting and examining fossils from Walcott’s site, and throughout these studies many new and previously unknown fossils were recovered.   (Parks Canada, 2006)  After all these exciting finds were made, the well known evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould wrote a book entitled “Wonderful Life”, which outlined the Burgess Shale finds and their evolutionary importance.   Each of these outlined researchers contributed significant findings and perspectives towards the Burgess Shale, and together they helped to bring attention to this precious natural resource.

Parks Canada.  (2006) Human History of the Burgess Shale Fossils. http://www.pc.gc.ca/apprendre-learn/prof/sub/burgess/factsheet2_e.asp

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