Feb 11 2014

New Burgess Shale Find

Published by under Evolution
Comments: 8

For those familiar with the Burgess Shale, the news of a new “phyllopod bed” is exciting.

A century ago Charles Walcott discovered (in what is now called Walcott quarry) an amazing fossil bed from the Cambrian era. These were soft-bodied fossils preserved in shale from the very dawn of multicellular life, the Cambrian explosion. From 570 to 530 million years ago multicellular plant and animal life appeared in fossils and diversified. Every major group we see today is represented in Cambrian fossil beds, along with phyla that are now extinct. Walcott Quarry is by far the most prolific and best preserved such fossil bed.

Now researchers report on the discovery of another fossil bed 40 km southeast of the Walcott quarry, in Kootenay National Park. The report:

The assemblage, discovered in 2012, occurs at the top of the Burgess Shale Formation and is significantly younger than the localities of the type area. In situ excavation and talus collections from a two-meter thick interval have so far yielded 3053 specimens representing at least 52 taxa. Among these, half are known from the Walcott Quarry and at least 15 are new.

Wow. This is a massive find from somewhat later in the Cambrian, perhaps showing even more early diversity of multicellular life. Already they are finding new species and more details about known species. It may be a little early to speculate, but the researchers feel that this find could be even bigger than the Walcott Quarry.

What the Burgess Shale documents is an entire ecosystem of creatures, living in the shallow seas at that time. What you won’t find in Cambrian fossil beds are modern fish, crustaceans, mollusks or anything else contemporary. You will only find primitive fauna, weird looking to our modern eyes. Some contain features that clearly indicate that they were ancestors to modern groups, while other resemble nothing alive today.

In other words – the Burgess Shale and Cambrian fossil beds in general are a dramatic line of evidence for the evolutionary history of life on earth. Such a find could have, in a single stroke, provided dramatic falsification of current evolutionary theory. Instead it provided powerful confirmation.

Still, creationists try to twist the significance of Cambrian fossils to their end, claiming the “explosion” represents the “sudden appearance of complex forms.” Of course by “explosion” paleontologists mean 40 million years. The complex forms are also clearly primitive early forms – nothing close to modern. The power of motivated reasoning and self-deception never ceases to amaze.

I can’t wait to see what new discoveries come out of the Kootenay fossil bed. This is something on which to definitely to keep an eye.

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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “New Burgess Shale Find”

  1. Kawarthajonon 11 Feb 2014 at 3:12 pm

    This is an amazing find! We’ll be hearing science news related to this new find for decades or longer.

  2. TheFlyingPigon 11 Feb 2014 at 3:58 pm

    It must be so strange to be a YEC these days. I was curious about the claim that “Every major group we see today is represented in Cambrian fossil beds”… what’s a ‘group’?, what do you mean by ‘major’?, every single group?

    So I asked the internet. Less than 5 minutes of internetting didn’t fully resolve all of my questions/curiosity, but there’s so much information out there, presented so clearly and well, that it should be disastrous to the faith of any YEC. Maybe high speed internet and some training on how to use it could do more good than any argument or any amount of evidence that could possibly be presented to a person. After all, on the internet, you can explore your own personal ignorances; and learning is a personal achievement rather than a concession to whoever’s giving you the information.

    The internet makes me feel like Lt. Barclay when he became a super-genius (though it takes a bit longer than a nanosecond to explore an idea).

  3. Steven Novellaon 11 Feb 2014 at 5:11 pm

    TFP – specifically I meant every phyllum. Every phyllum has an example in the Cambrian fauna, and there are many phylla that are now extinct.

  4. Newcoasteron 11 Feb 2014 at 7:32 pm

    I just finally got around to reading Stephen J Goulds “Wonderful Life” ( as an aside , while I have enjoyed many of his books I found this one in need of editing as it was a bit of a hard slog)

    It is fascinating to think of all the other of natures experiments that just didn’t work out. It’s really just an accident that these creatures were preserved at all. They evolved and thrived for a short time (geologically speaking at least) and we would otherwise be ignorant of them if Walcott hadn’t stumbled on the Burgess Shale. He, unfortunately did not recognize their significance at the time and tried to shoehorn them into the known phyla. It makes you appreciate how little we really know about life on earth and how lacking our fossil record is

  5. Chris Robertson 11 Feb 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Exciting news and great timing. Even though some of his conclusions may have been overstated, I’m a big fan of Stephen Jay Gould’s book Wonderful Life which was released in ebook form this past week. Gould gave me a fascination for the Cambrian period in general and the Burgess Shale in particular. I live off the Gulf Coast and enjoy walking by the waters and imagining strange creatures swimming the Cambrian seas.

  6. Davdoodleson 11 Feb 2014 at 10:27 pm

    “In other words – the Burgess Shale and Cambrian fossil beds in general are a dramatic line of evidence for the evolutionary history of life on earth. Such a find could have, in a single stroke, provided dramatic falsification of current evolutionary theory. Instead it provided powerful confirmation.”

    This. And precisely because of this, smarmy prophet Ken Ham will be burning the midnight oil trying his hardest to find ways to ensure his flock remain either ignorant of it, or misinformed.

    What an odd, pointless, and wrong-headed livelihood he has chosen.
    .

  7. Bill Openthalton 12 Feb 2014 at 6:56 am

    Davdoodles –

    Ken did not consciously choose to ignore or misrepresent these discoveries. For him, the existence of the god from the bible is so powerfully self-evident that he cannot but challenge and reject the scientific evidence. It feels wrong, hence it must be wrong, and his mind dutifully provides the rationalisations.

  8. Davdoodleson 13 Feb 2014 at 2:05 am

    Bill-

    Indeed, I cannot say whether Ham consciously chooses to misguide his followers, or whether a lifetime of motivated resasoning has fundamentally damaged his ability to assess information, or indeed whether he ever posessed a jot of reason in the first place.
    .

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