Experience The Burgess Shale
They say that some secrets are just too good to keep, so we’re going to let you in on something special, here in Yoho National Park. Located near the village of Field, BC, the Burgess Shale fossil beds are home to some of the earliest modern animals ever to grace this planet. They come from a period when life was only found in the world’s oceans; you see, most of Western Canada was underwater.
Up until 230 million years ago, the summits of what is now the Rocky Mountains actually formed the ocean floor. The ocean teemed with life and wonderfully some of the bones of those fish and reptiles have survived and been found.
The first discovery of fossils on the mountaintops was made in August 1909, when Dr. Charles Walcott, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution visited the mountains that overlooked the town of Field, BC. Over the next sixteen years, Walcott collected more than 65,000 fossil specimens from the area now known as the Burgess Shale. These and other fossils recovered from expeditions over the past century, grace the halls of some of the world’s greatest museums, helping to bring an ancient world, dating back 505 million years, back to life.
This time in history is referred to as the Cambrian Period. It bore witness to an explosion of life that laid the foundation for most of the modern animals that inhabit the planet today. In fact, 95 percent of today’s animals, including snails, sea stars, crabs, insects, spiders, fish and, remarkably, mammals, can all trace their very first ancestors to this unique period in time.
Through exquisitely preserved deposits of soft-bodied animal fossils, the Burgess Shale fossil beds provide an unparalleled glimpse into the development of life on this planet. As a result, the Burgess Shale fossil beds have been a scientific discovery the entire world deserves to know about.
In the summer of 2018, Parks Canada Heritage Interpreters are offering guided hikes to the restricted Burgess Shale fossil beds once again. Hikes incorporate traditional interpretive techniques such as storytelling and hands on activities.
The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation also leads hikes to the fossil beds. To learn more: burgess-shale.bc.ca Note that hikes to the Walcott Quarry are 20 km round trip; hikes to the Mount Stephen fossil beds are 6 km.
If you want to learn more while you are in the area, stop by Yoho National Park Visitor Information Centre in Field to see the interactive Burgess Shale display and gallery.