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On July 16, 1981, Yoho National Park’s Burgess Shale became Canada’s fifth World Heritage Site of The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Within Yoho National Park of Canada, the Burgess Shale holds the deposit of one of world’s most ancient marine ecosystems complete with fossilized examples of complex, soft-bodied organisms, some the consistency of jelly that were caught in millions of years of submarine mudslides. Hundreds of millions of years of mud upon mud upon mud upon marine organisms that range in size from smaller than a dime to the size of a wallet.

As silt and mineral sediment settle within or below water, they form mud. As mud settles and compacts over time, it can form shale, a sedimentary rock type that is layered and that splits easily along its layers. Since fossils are easily destroyed by geologic change, the oldest fossils, especially soft-bodied invertebrates, are the most rare.

The mud forming the shale found in the Burgess Pass is thought to have originated near the equator. The soft-bodied animals and plants were caught, at various points over time, in marine slumps or slides. The successive submarine mudslides compacted the previous layers and sets of shale beds built up. The Burgess Shale layers or strata range in thickness from a few millimeters to a few centimeters. For paleobiologists, they hold remarkable physical records of most of the animal groups we know today and a more complete record of Cambrian marine life than any other site. Over 500 million years of shale strata building + tectonic plate movement = marine fossils in their current position about three km (1.9 mi) above sea level in a mountain pass in British Columbia, Canada!

How did anyone discover this place in the first place? Because Canada’s Prime Minister promised a national railway in the 1870s to link the growing country together, the Geological Survey of Canada needed engineers and surveyors to find short routes between mountains. Mountains meant mountaineers and naturalists and, well… fossil discoveries… and the rest, as they say, is paleontology.

Fortunately for us all, Parks Canada and the Royal Ontario Museum have created a KNOCKOUT EXHIBIT of Canada’s Burgess Shale in a virtual museum that welcomes visitors day or night! Excellent illustrations of the Yoho location and how mud becomes stone and shale. Not only will you get to suss out the Burgess Shale, you will see how the fossils appear in its layers. Trace the largest predator of the Cambrian sea from shale fossil to modern animation to see how Anomalocaris canadensis likely appeared and moved.

You’ll find amazing examples of prehistoric marine life here in brilliant photographs, drawings, and 3-D modelling. Yes! You can learn just HOW those models are produced:

You’ll learn how to plan an expedition; pack the absolute right equipment for the fieldtrip; and, back at the lab, capture and recreate images of even the tiniest fossils. Lots to discover here. This is XTREME COOL… so pack a picnic lunch and spend the day!

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage