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Researchers discover 'epic' new Burgess Shale site in Canada's Kootenay National Park

February 11, 2014 Kootenay National Park, British Columbia -- Yoho National Park's 505-million-year-old Burgess Shale home to some of the planet's earliest animals, including a very primitive human relative is one of the world's most important fossil sites. Now, more than a century after its discovery, a compelling sequel has been unearthed: 42 kilometres away in Kootenay National Park, a new Burgess Shale fossil site has been located that appears to equal the importance of the original discovery, and may one day even surpass it.

The find was made in the summer of 2012 by a team from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM, Jean-Bernard Caron), Pomona College (Robert Gaines), the University of Toronto (Jean-Bernard Caron, Cdric Aria), the University of Saskatchewan (Gabriela Mngano) and Uppsala University (Michael Streng).

A paper published today in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications describes Kootenay National Park's new 'Marble Canyon' fossil beds for the first time. The authors suggest that the area and its extraordinary fossils will greatly further our understanding of the sudden explosion of animal life during the Cambrian Period.

The new fossil site is protected by Parks Canada, with the exact location remaining confidential to protect its integrity, though future visitor opportunities have not been ruled out. The ROM is especially proud of this discovery as it comes in a year the organization celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Quick Facts

  • This new finding is the latest in a recent string of Burgess Shale discoveries, including confirmation that Pikaia, found only in Yoho National Park, is the most primitive known vertebrate and therefore the ancestor of all descendant vertebrates, including humans.

  • In over 100 years of research, approximately 200 animal species have been identified at the original Burgess Shale discovery in Yoho National Park in over 600 field days. In just 15 days of field collecting, 50 animal species have already been unearthed at the new Kootenay National Park site.

  • Some species found at the new Kootenay site are also found in China's famous Chengjiang fossil beds, which are 10 million years older. This contributes to the pool of evidence suggesting that the local and worldwide distribution of Cambrian animals, as well as their longevity, might have been underestimated.


Contact: Christine Elias
University of Toronto

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