What's so special about the Burgess Shale?
What is the Burgess Shale, and what is its importance in paleontology?
The Burgess Shale is a layer of rock that preserves some of the most intriguing fossils we've ever found. Named for Mount Burgess in the Canadian Rockies, near where they were discovered, the shale contains over 65,000 separate species that lived over half a billion years ago. It provides a fascinating snapshot of life in the Cambrian, long before the dinosaurs.
One of the reasons the Burgess Shale is unique is that it is one of the rare instances where not only skeletons and shells, but soft tissue of organisms are preserved. Instead of seeing simply the underlying framework of each organism, we can see the entire body and how it looked in life. This is especially important in the Burgess Shale because it contains many species of worms, sponges, and other fauna without shells or skeletons --if the Burgess Shale preserved fossils in the usual way, we would never see many of these animals.
The Burgess Shale represents many early species related to sponges, anemones, and other sea life we have today, but it also contains many others that have no living relatives at all. To see reconstructions and learn more about some of these ancient animals, follow these links:
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