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The Burgess Shale

found in: science; preK-2; 3-5; 6-8; 9-12

Discovered in the Canadian Rockies by paleontologist Charles Walcott in 1909, The Burgess Shale  is a spectacular fossil record of soft-bodied life from 500 million years ago, more than 200 million years before dinosaurs. This Canadian website provides supplementary resources for K-12 science teachers and students and includes lesson, video, and images of unusual multicellular creatures that seem to have suddenly exploded on the scene.

The Burgess Shale: Historic And Scientific Explorations  Is a collection of five lessons, three of which concern three of the creatures, one early photographs of fossils, and another Canada’s westward expansion and scientific exploration. Opabinia Regalis - Classifying The Bizarre Creatures Found In The Burgess Shale  has students examine a most unusual creature and evaluate the significance of it and other fossils of the Burgess Shale and their connection to living animals today. The lesson includes a classification activity, drawings, graphics, and digital animation video of a free-swimming opabinia, an animal with five eyes and long proboscis.

Virtual Sea Odyssey is a series of seven short digital animations (approximately 0:30) that take students to the Cambrian seafloor to observe swimmers, predators, grazers, filterers, scavengers, and the likely explanation of what likely happened to preserve them. More specimens wait below each video.

Fossil Gallery features photos of fossils, animations, and 3D models of three animals. Click “Learn More” for more information and more images.

Science discusses the origin of the animals in the Cambrian Explosion, the Burgess Shale, and fieldwork, which includes

Labwork and Collections, eight videos (1:00-4:00) that show what happens to a fossil specimen once it arrives at a museum.

History provides context and information on discoverers and discoveries.

An additional resource for context is a BBC podcast The Cambrian Period (42:25) three scientists discuss climate, geology, evolution and the proliferation of complex life during the Cambrian Explosion. The conversation continues with a comparison of Darwin’s conception of gradual evolution to Stephen Jay Gould’s punctuated evolution.


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