Name: Burgess Shale
Location: British Columbia
Age: Middle Cambrian (505 Ma)

The Burgess Shale

Plate 1. A life reconstruction of various Burgess Shale organisms. Reprinted from The Crucible of Creation, Conway Morris, S. (1998).
The Burgess Shale is probably the most spectacular and scientifically significant site of fossil preservation in the world. It is located in British Columbia, Canada, and dates from the Middle Cambrian approximately 505 million years ago, around a time when groups of animals began to rapidly diversify in body plans or major anatomical features in an event known as the Cambrian Explosion. These large-scale features make groups of animals, or phyla, unique.

What makes this site so important for palaeontologists is that it is a rare example of a 'taphonomic window', a historical snapshot in the diversity of ancient life. Most fossil sites of this age yield only groups of animals with hard skeletons, such as the more common trilobites and brachiopods. These taxa are well preserved since their hard, calcified skeletons resist decay.
But the Burgess Shale shows a less biased picture of Cambrian biological diversity because soft-bodied animals and other organisms that would not have been normally preserved are found in exquisite detail. Indeed, our view on the early evolution of animals would have been slanted towards groups that have hard parts if it were not for the Burgess Shale.
Geological Setting and Age
Flora and Fauna
References and Links

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Section author: Alexei A. Rivera

This section is part of a Fossil Lagerstätten web site which has been built up as a result of the efforts of the 2002-3 MSc Palaeobiology class in the Department of Earth Sciences at University of Bristol, as part of a course in Scientific Communication.

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