Alexandria, VA – The Burgess Shale provides us with a rare glimpse into the softer side of paleontology. Most fossils are preserved hard parts – bones, teeth and shells – but one of the most famous fossil locales in the world, the Burgess Shale, reveals subtle soft body structures like gills and eyes delicately preserved between the layers of dark rock.
For more than 100 years, the Burgess Shale has been giving us a unique perspective on what life was like in the Cambrian seas. This month, EARTH Magazine contributor Mary Caperton Morton reminds us that no matter how well we think we know a fossil locality, it can still surprise us.
Since its discovery, more than 100,000 fossils have been removed from the site – the vast majority stored in drawers at the Smithsonian and the Royal Ontario Museum – and yet visitors regularly find treasure after overturning just a few slabs.
Removing fossils is prohibited, however, and a number of motion- and pressure-sensor cameras protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site from unescorted visitors and sticky-fingered fossil enthusiasts, ensuring that the Burgess Shale will be able to dazzle us for years to come.