New burgess shale fossil site found in Canada's Kootenay National Park

by Mary Caperton Morton
Friday, May 16, 2014

With its plethora of ancient and exquisitely preserved soft-bodied fossils, the Burgess Shale in Canada’s Yoho National Park is one of the world’s most famous fossil sites. Now a sister site has been discovered just 40 kilometers away in Kootenay National Park, and the new find may prove even richer than the original.

Dating to about 500 million years ago, the Burgess Shale preserves fine details from some of the earliest complex life forms on Earth. The new locality, discovered in 2012 in Marble Canyon by a team from the Royal Ontario Museum and reported this year in Nature Communications, has already yielded more than 3,000 specimens representing a total of 55 taxa — a density and diversity that rivals the Burgess Shale’s Walcott Quarry locality, which was discovered in 1909.

“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,” said lead author Jean-Bernard Caron of the Royal Ontario Museum and the University of Toronto in a statement. “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.”

Despite its proximity to the original Burgess Shale locality, the Marble Canyon assemblage is distinct, preserving many previously unknown taxa that offer new insights into the early diversification of the animal kingdom. The arthropod-dominated assemblage is remarkable for its high density and diversity of soft-bodied organisms, large proportion of new species, and preservation of previously unreported anatomical features, Caron and colleagues reported.

For now, the location of the new quarry is being kept confidential by Parks Canada to protect its integrity, though future visitor opportunities are in the works. “We are very excited to go back to the field this summer,” Caron said, “with one of our main goals being to increase the number of new species discovered.”

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