The Burgess Shale in British Columbia, Canada, preserves an amazing collection of fossils of sea creatures from the Cambrian period. This was a time dating from 488 to 542 million years ago, when complex creatures were beginning to evolve but before the dinosaurs existed.
Some of the creatures were pretty strange, like the Anomalocaris canadensis pictured above in this image courtesy Nobu Tamura. The name means “strange shrimp of Canada”. Another is the Marella splendens, shown below in this image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. These little guys are the most common animal found in the Burgess Shale.
Fossils from the Burgess Shale can be seen in museums around the world, and now the Royal Ontario Museum and Parks Canada have created the Burgess Shale online exhibition. The exhibition has a fossil library of almost every species ever found in the shale, along with information about how they lived. Most interesting are the animated reconstructions, including a virtual submarine ride to visit sea life half a billion years ago.
More than 70 digital reconstructions of the animals allow you to examine them closely. You’ll see how many modern animals such as snails, sea stars, and crabs had their origins in this remote era. These real-life monsters are a great educational tool for kids. My son was fascinated.
If you want to see the Burgess Shale for yourself, go to Yoho National Park in British Columbia. Guided hikes to the otherwise restricted fossil beds, which have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are available from July to September