Scientists say a recently located fossil site on the Alberta-B.C. border is already yielding major new discoveries about early animal evolution.
The Marble Canyon fossil beds were located in 2012 by a team of Canadian, U.S. and Swedish researchers in Kootenay National Park, about 40 kilometres from the 505-million-year-old Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park — which is considered one of the most important fossil fields in the world.
In a paper published Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Communications, researchers reveal they unearthed 50 animal species in just 15 days exploring the new site.
“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,” said the Royal Ontario Museum’s (ROM) Jean-Bernard Caron, who led the team.
- Coming up: Research team member Robert Gaines talks to Quirks & Quarks Feb. 15 at noon on CBC Radio One
Like the original Burgess Shale site, Marble Canyon is proving to be a rich trove of fossilized arthropods, a group that today represents more than 80 per cent of all living animals including insects, spiders and lobsters, Parks Canada said.
And many of the specimens are better preserved at the new Kootenay site, retaining very fine, never-before-seen anatomical details.
'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.' - Robert Gaines, geologist
The exact location of Marble Canyon is being kept secret to prevent people from taking fossils, though future visitor opportunities are being considered, Parks Canada says.
Researchers believed they might find some Burgess Shale fossils in Kootenay National Park, but the size of their discovery was stunning, said Robert Gaines, a geologist at Pomona College in southern California.
“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 motherlode like this,” he said.
“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.”
The original Burgess Shale site, found in 1909, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
The ROM has the world’s largest collection of Burgess Shale fossils, held in trust for Parks Canada.
Watch the video below for more on the research project. On mobile? Click here.