Canada's Kootenay National Park Home To Epic Burgess Shale Site
February 12, 2014

Epic Burgess Shale Site Found In Canada’s Kootenay National Park

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

The 505-million-year-old Burgess Shale found in Yoho National Park in British Columbia is home to some of the world's earliest animals, including a very primitive human relative. It is also considered to be one of the world's most important fossil sites. More than one hundred years after its discovery, a new Burgess Shale fossil site has been discovered 26 miles away in Kootenay National Park.

According to Pomona College geologist Dr. Robert Gaines, "We were already aware of the presence of some Burgess Shale fossils in Kootenay National Park. We had a hunch that if we followed the formation along the mountain topography into new areas with the right rock types, maybe, just maybe, we would get lucky – though we never in our wildest dreams thought we'd track down a motherload like this. It didn't take us very long at all to realize that we had dug up something special. To me, the Burgess Shale is a grand tale in every way imaginable, and we are incredibly proud to be part of this new chapter and to keep the story alive and thriving in everyone's imagination."

[ Watch the Video: Burgess Shale Expedition ]

The new site, described in Nature Communications, appears of equal importance to the Yoho site, and may someday surpass it. Approximately 200 species of animals have been identified at the Yoho Burgess Shale site in over 600 field days during the last 100 years. Comparatively, in just 15 field days, 50 animal species have already been found at the Kootenay Park site. Some of those species are also found in the famous Chengjiang fossil beds of China. These beds are 10 million years older than the Kootenay Park site. The authors suggest that this expands the pool of evidence that the local and worldwide distribution of Cambrian animals, and their longevity, might have been underestimated.

"This new discovery is an epic sequel to a research story that began at the turn of the previous century, and there is no doubt in my mind that this new material will significantly increase our understanding of early animal evolution. The rate at which we are finding animals – many of which are new – is astonishing, and there is a high possibility that we'll eventually find more species here than at the original Yoho National Park site, and potentially more than from anywhere else in the world. We are very excited to go back to the field this summer, during the ROM's Centennial year, with one of our main goals being to increase the number of new species discovered," said Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum, and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto.

A team of researchers, including members from the Royal Ontario Museum, Pomona College, the University of Toronto, the University of Saskatchewan and Uppsala University, found the new fossil site in 2012. The authors suggest that Kootenay National Park's "Marble Canyon” site and its extraordinary fossils will further our understanding of the sudden explosion of animal life during the Cambrian Period.

Confirmation that the Pikaia — found only in Yoho National Park — is the most primitive vertebrate known, and therefore the ancestor of all descendent vertebrates, including humans, is one of a string of new Burgess Shale discoveries that include the Marble Canyon site.

Parks Canada protects the new fossil site, with the exact location remaining confidential to protect its integrity. They have not ruled out future visitor opportunities, however. The Royal Ontario Museum is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, making the discovery a special treat.

"The Burgess Shale is a tremendously rich resource important to our understanding of the development of life on this planet. Parks Canada is immensely proud to provide access to the fossils for cutting edge research such as this, for our award-winning guided hikes, and to protect forever these fossils in a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site," said Melanie Kwong, Parks Canada's Superintendent responsible for the Burgess Shale.