Media Releases

Researchers discover ‘epic’ new Burgess Shale site in Canada’s Kootenay National Park

February 11, 2014

Massive deposit may be world’s most important animal fossil discovery in decades

KOOTENAY NATIONAL PARK, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Yoho Nation­al Park’s 505-mil­lion-year-old Burgess Shale – home to some of the planet’s ear­li­est ani­mals, includ­ing a very prim­i­tive human rel­a­tive – is one of the world’s most impor­tant fos­sil sites. Now, more than a cen­tu­ry after its dis­cov­ery, a com­pelling sequel has been unearthed: 42 kilo­me­tres away in Koote­nay Nation­al Park, a new Burgess Shale fos­sil site has been locat­ed that appears to equal the impor­tance of the orig­i­nal dis­cov­ery, and may one day even sur­pass it.

The find was made in the sum­mer of 2012 by a team from the Roy­al Ontario Muse­um (ROM, Jean-Bernard Caron), Pomona Col­lege (Robert Gaines), the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to (Jean-Bernard Caron, Cédric Aria), the Uni­ver­si­ty of Saskatchewan (Gabriela Mángano) and Upp­sala Uni­ver­si­ty (Michael Streng).

A paper pub­lished today in the pres­ti­gious sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal Nature Com­mu­ni­ca­tions describes Koote­nay Nation­al Park’s new ‘Mar­ble Canyon’ fos­sil beds for the first time. The authors sug­gest that the area and its extra­or­di­nary fos­sils will great­ly fur­ther our under­stand­ing of the sud­den explo­sion of ani­mal life dur­ing the Cam­bri­an Peri­od.

The new fos­sil site is pro­tect­ed by Parks Cana­da, with the exact loca­tion remain­ing con­fi­den­tial to pro­tect its integri­ty, though future vis­i­tor oppor­tu­ni­ties have not been ruled out. The ROM is espe­cial­ly proud of this dis­cov­ery as it comes in a year the orga­ni­za­tion cel­e­brates its 100th anniver­sary.

Quick Facts

  • This new find­ing is the lat­est in a recent string of Burgess Shale dis­cov­er­ies, includ­ing con­fir­ma­tion that Pika­ia, found only in Yoho Nation­al Park, is the most prim­i­tive known ver­te­brate and there­fore the ances­tor of all descen­dant ver­te­brates, includ­ing humans.
  • In over 100 years of research, approx­i­mate­ly 200 ani­mal species have been iden­ti­fied at the orig­i­nal Burgess Shale dis­cov­ery in Yoho Nation­al Park in over 600 field days. In just 15 days of field col­lect­ing, 50 ani­mal species have already been unearthed at the new Koote­nay Nation­al Park site.
  • Some species found at the new Koote­nay site are also found in China’s famous Chengjiang fos­sil beds, which are 10 mil­lion years old­er. This con­tributes to the pool of evi­dence sug­gest­ing that the local and world­wide dis­tri­b­u­tion of Cam­bri­an ani­mals, as well as their longevi­ty, might have been under­es­ti­mat­ed.

Explore and Dis­cov­er

  • Explore the ROM/Parks Cana­da award win­ning web­site about Burgess Shale
  • Dis­cov­er more about the Burgess Shale in Yoho and Koote­nay nation­al parks by vis­it­ing
  • Fol­low on Twit­ter with hash­tag #BurgessShale or fol­low @ParksCanada or @ROMToronto


“This new dis­cov­ery is an epic sequel to a research sto­ry that began at the turn of the pre­vi­ous cen­tu­ry, and there is no doubt in my mind that this new mate­r­i­al will sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase our under­stand­ing of ear­ly ani­mal evo­lu­tion. The rate at which we are find­ing ani­mals – many of which are new – is aston­ish­ing, and there is a high pos­si­bil­i­ty that we’ll even­tu­al­ly find more species here than at the orig­i­nal Yoho Nation­al Park site, and poten­tial­ly more than from any­where else in the world. We are very excit­ed to go back to the field this sum­mer, dur­ing the ROM’s Cen­ten­ni­al year, with one of our main goals being to increase the num­ber of new species dis­cov­ered.”

Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron
Cura­tor of Inver­te­brate Pale­on­tol­ogy at the Roy­al Ontario Muse­um, Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and the study’s lead author

“We were already aware of the pres­ence of some Burgess Shale fos­sils in Koote­nay Nation­al Park. We had a hunch that if we fol­lowed the for­ma­tion along the moun­tain topog­ra­phy into new areas with the right rock types, maybe, just maybe, we would get lucky – though we nev­er in our wildest dreams thought we’d track down a moth­er­load like this. It didn’t take us very long at all to real­ize that we had dug up some­thing spe­cial. To me, the Burgess Shale is a grand tale in every way imag­in­able, and we are incred­i­bly proud to be part of this new chap­ter and to keep the sto­ry alive and thriv­ing in everyone’s imag­i­na­tion.”

Dr. Robert Gaines
Geol­o­gist, Pomona Col­lege

“The Burgess Shale is a tremen­dous­ly rich resource impor­tant to our under­stand­ing of the devel­op­ment of life on this plan­et. Parks Cana­da is immense­ly proud to pro­vide access to the fos­sils for cut­ting edge research such as this, for our award-win­ning guid­ed hikes, and to pro­tect for­ev­er these fos­sils in a nation­al park and UNESCO World Her­itage Site.”

Melanie Kwong
Parks Canada’s Super­in­ten­dent respon­si­ble for the Burgess Shale

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Jour­nal Arti­cle

Relat­ed Online Prod­ucts


Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron (bilin­gual – Eng­lish-French)
Cura­tor of Inver­te­brate Palaeon­tol­ogy, Roy­al Ontario Muse­um
Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor in the Depart­ment of Ecol­o­gy and Evo­lu­tion­ary Biol­o­gy and the Depart­ment of Earth Sci­ences, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
416 586 5593;

Dr. Robert Gaines
Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Geol­o­gy, Pomona Col­lege
Office: 909 621 8674, Cell: 909 451 3073;

Dr. Michael Streng
Depart­ment of Earth Sci­ences, Upp­sala Uni­ver­si­ty
+46 70–9622588 or +46 18–4712579;

David McK­ay
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Coor­di­na­tor
Roy­al Ontario Muse­um
416 586 5559;

Jen­nifer Thoma
Media Rela­tions Spe­cial­ist
Uni­ver­si­ty of Saskatchewan

Omar McDa­di (bilin­gual – Eng­lish-French)
Pub­lic Rela­tions and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Offi­cer
Yoho and Koote­nay nation­al parks
403 760 1090;