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Did a geographic shift trigger the Cambrian Explosion?

Roughly 530 million years ago, Earth’s living cast of characters ballooned as a surge of evolutionary development led to the sudden appearance of almost all modern animal groups. Fossils from this period document the change in species, but the geologic, atmospheric and/or biotic factors that may have caused the radiation remain mysterious. Now, a new study suggests that massive changes in the positions of the continents may have played a significant role in sparking the Cambrian Explosion.

27 Mar 2015

Oldest-known skeletal animals found

The Ediacaran Period, which lasted from 635 million to 541 million years ago, is famous for the evolution of soft-bodied organisms that pre-dated the Cambrian Explosion, the relatively brief period during which most of the major animal phyla appeared. Now, Ediacaran-aged animals with skeletons have been found.

29 Dec 2014

Did tidal zone trilobites lead the way onto land?

With their Cambrian-defining ubiquity, 270-million-year longevity and impressive diversity, trilobites often rank as people’s favorite sort of fossil. Now a set of 500-million-year-old trace fossils found in Tennessee is potentially expanding the trilobites’ territory from the deep ocean all the way inland to the resource-rich Cambrian tidal flats. But whether the tracks mean that trilobites were part of an ecological bridge that helped animals transition from the sea onto land to colonize the empty continents is up for debate.

22 Jun 2014

Travels in Geology: Famous fossils and spectacular scenery at British Columbia's Burgess Shale

Of all the famous fossil localities in the world, perhaps none is as widely celebrated as British Columbia’s Burgess Shale. High in the Canadian Rockies, the Burgess Shale contains some of the oldest and most exquisitely detailed fossils of early life on Earth. Visiting the Burgess Shale requires some preparation — you must hire a guide and hike 22 kilometers at high elevation — but for a fossil enthusiast, the payoff is worth every step.

01 Jan 2013

The Burgess Shale bestseller

The Burgess Shale owes much of its fame to a book called “Wonderful Life” by the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Published in 1989, the book was a bestseller. The title is a reference to the scene in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which George Bailey’s guardian angel replays the tape of life as if George had never been born, to dramatic effect.

01 Jan 2013

Getting there and getting around the Burgess Shale

Traveling to the Burgess Shale requires a plane ticket, a guide, and the legs and lungs to hike high into the Canadian Rockies.

01 Jan 2013

Re-examining the Burgess Shale

About 505 million years ago, the continent that would become North America straddled the equator. With no terrestrial plants or animals, the land was a barren landscape. The warm, shallow sea bordering the continent, however, hosted a carbonated reef teeming with a diverse array of organisms, most of which were relatively small bottom-dwellers. Periodically, the animals would get washed over the reef and deposited at its base, where their bodies accumulated in the muddy sediments. Today, these creatures are beautifully preserved in the Burgess Shale.

24 Aug 2009