This week, researchers announced a remarkable discovery—a treasure trove of fossils in a remote area of Canada. The rock formation, loaded with fossils, is already being touted as the next big discovery within the Burgess Shale, a Canadian rock formation famous for its Cambrian-era fossils, which date to 505 million years ago.
This particular section of the Burgess Shale sheds new light onto the Cambrian period, when life on earth began to diversify in dramatic and strange ways. The first Burgess Shale site was discovered by paleontologist (and Secretary to the Smithsonian Institution) Charles Walcott in 1909, and has provided paleontologists with a wealth of information.
This new site is promising, too, the Globe and Mail reports:
Initial highlights from the site include distant relatives of today’s insects and crustaceans, as well as a hitherto rare fossil type called Metaspriggina, a limbless, eyeless creature that nevertheless represents a distant precursor to all animals with a spine, including humans.
All the specimens found at the site lived on the ocean bottom and were later covered with a muddy silt, which gradually became a fine-grained rock. When carefully split open, the rock reveals the remains of the specimens locked within, including their soft tissues – crucial for studying animals that otherwise would leave few if any trace behind.
The site is located in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia near Marble Canyon, but the exact location of the site is being kept secret by the researchers, who fear that fossil hunters could destroy the site.
If you want to experience Cambrian fossils first-hand, there are other options. Canada’s Yoho National Park offers guided hikes into the Burgess shale formation. If you don’t have the time to visit Canada, check out this one minute virtual submarine ride to the seafloor where the animals lived, or the video below of the researchers' expedition to the new Burgess Shale site, complete with dramatic music.