August 12, 2014

Top Secret Burgess Shale Fossil Site

This week has been full of exciting events.  On one of our hikes, we saw a grizzly bear (at a safe distance).  It was a highlight moment for everyone.

The bear was a little too far away for a photo, but a couple of days later, at our lunch stop on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, we saw a tremendous icefall off the Upper Victoria Glacier. This time, we all managed to get good photographs.

The biggest highlight of the week, however, was a field trip with some of our Parks Canada colleagues to a newly discovered outcrop of the Burgess Shale fossils in Kootenay National Park.  We're not allowed to divulge its location -- all we can say is that it was a real slog to get there -- but it was a real treat to be in a location where fossils of creatures that have not seen the light of day in over 500 million years are being exposed through careful quarrying.

Sydneyia inexpectans, exposed to sunlight for the first time in over 500 million years

We were shown the day's findings, which included a perfectly preserved Sidneyia inexpectans.  I got to hold it in my hand, and I was blown away by the idea that until that morning, it had been hidden in stone for half a billion years!

Jean Bernard Caron (top right) examining a freshly split open piece of shale

We also got a great site tour by Jean Bernard Caron, Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology at the Royal Ontario Museum.  He went back and forth between answering our questions, and examining freshly split open layers of shale.  If you are a fossil fan, the ROM's web page is full of great photos of fossils from the Burgess Shale, and animations of the creatures, including my new pal Sydneyia.

Definitely a highlight of my summer.  How many times can you say "that rocks!" and really mean it?