The Discovery of the Burgess Shale

The Burgess Shale beds were first discovered in August, 1909, by Charles Doolittle Walcott of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. Legend has it that this remarkable discovery was an accident. Walcott and his field party had been travelling by horse near Mount Wapta when they stopped to remove rocks blocking the path. Much to their surpise they found that these slabs contained fossilized carbon films of soft tissues. One of the first fossils that Walcott described was an arthropod named Marella splendens.

Walcott subsequently opened two quarries between Mount Wapta and Mount Field. The Phyllopod bed from which Walcott obtained many of his specimens was located in the Lower (Walcott's) Quarry. The second quarry, Raymond's Quarry, was located 20 m above Walcott's Quarry. This quarry was named for P.E. Raymond, a prominent fossil collector.

Walcott published many papers on the Burgess Shale faunas during the next three decades, although many of his interpretations were subsequently revised.

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