Tom Koleszar – “Exploring the Burgess Shale”

Tom Koleszar – “Exploring the Burgess Shale”
by Andrew Bryant, 19 Mar 2015. 

Tom Koleszar, geologist and vice-president of our club, took us on a sweeping, half-billion year-old exploration of the Burgess Shale.

This extraordinary rock formation, located in Yoho and Kootenay National Parks in the Canadian Rockies, contains one of the world’s richest deposits of fossils.  It is renowned for the quality of its fossils, especially as they allow for the preservation of soft-tissue imprints.   You can learn much more about it here, here and here.

It is truly extraordinary to look at a 500 million-year old rock and be able to count delicate hairs, eye facets or mouthpart details on an organism that was only millimetres or centimetres long when it swam or crawled through prehistoric seas.

Using photos, maps, and wit, Tom intoduced us to the fascinating world of the Cambrian, an epoch during which the oceans exploded into life.  To decribe creatures such as Anomalocaris, Hallucigenia and Opabinia as “strange” is a severe understatement – some of these things are downright weird!

There is also some fascinating human history surrounding these rocks, including that of discoverer Charles Walcott, who impressed his hardworking family into field technicians and porters, and the unresolved scientific debate between people such as Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris.

Was the “Cambrian explosion” just a series of failed experiments in body type design?  Or the beginning of phyla that can be traced to this day?

As they say.  Time will tell.