Produced by the Population Genetics and Evolution class, Furman University

The Cambrian: The Burgess Shale Formation
The Burgess Shale Formation was discovered in 1909 by Charles D. Walcott while exploring for the Smithsonian Institution (Scott et al. 2000). It is located in the Burgess Pass in the Canadian Rockies and named after the nearby Mount Burgess. The Burgess Shale Formation is one of the most important fossil formations ever discovered, as it contains very detailed traces of soft-bodied animals from the Cambrian era (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2010). These animals lived in a warm, shallow sea near a carbonate reef when a mudslide caused them to be swept off the reef where they were buried and instantly killed in an environment completely devoid of oxygen. It is believed that clay-particles were forced into the animals’ cracks and crevices, protecting them from scavengers and decay (The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation 2010). Some of the fossils found in the Burgess Shale Formation are ancestors to modern animals, but many are unique to the Cambrian period. Between 1910 and 1924, Walcott extracted over 65,000 specimens from the Burgess Shale Formation, including arthropods, worms, sponges, lophophorates, echinoderms, mollusks, and chordates (The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation 2010). The majority of the fossils were extracted from the upper quarry of the area, called Walcott’s quarry. In 1981, UNESCO designated the site as a heritage site, preserving it forever as an important clue to our evolutionary history.  

Page by Juia Bobo

Top: Picture of Charles D. Walcott in 1909 at the Burgess Shale Formation, from The Smithsonian Institution. Bottom: Trilobite Fossil from the nearby Mt. Stevens Trilobite beds. Photo from

The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation. 2010. The Burgess Shale Formation: Introduction. Accessed February 1, 2010.

Scott E, Kirkner L, Shin J, Desar V, Chan J. 2000. The Burgess Shale. University of California Museum of Paleontology. Accessed January 28th, 2010.

Encyclopaedia Britannia Online. 2010. Burgess Shale. Retrieved January 28th, 2010.