Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

Living Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, William M. Irvine, Ricardo Amils, Henderson James Cleaves, Daniele Pinti, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Michel Viso

Burgess Shale Biota

  • Thomas H. P. Harvey
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-27833-4_213-3


The Burgess Shale biota is an assemblage of exceptionally preserved fossil organisms from rock units within the Burgess Shale Formation of the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. It is dated at ca. 505–510 Ma, within the middle part of the Cambrian Period of geologic time, and is renowned for providing a detailed snapshot of early animal evolution.


The principal fossil locality near Mount Burgess was discovered in 1909 by Charles D. Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He quickly recognized the importance of the fossils and coined the term “Burgess Shale.” Later, expeditions from Harvard University, the Geological Survey of Canada, and the Royal Ontario Museum discovered new localities and amassed substantial new collections of fossils.


The Burgess Shale biota figures strongly in discussions of early animal evolution and the Cambrian explosion of life. Unlike most fossil localities, the Burgess Shale yields exquisitely preserved...


Cambrian Evolution Metazoans Paleobiology 
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References and Further Reading

  1. Briggs DEG, Erwin DH, Collier FJ (1994) The fossils of the Burgess Shale. Smithsonian Books, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  2. Conway Morris S (1998) The crucible of creation: the Burgess Shale and the rise of animals. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  3. Gould SJ (1989) Wonderful life: the Burgess Shale and the nature of history. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Earth SciencesUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK