This stratigraphic unit found within the Stephen Formation is loaded with fossils, and is one of the most significant and famous fossil beds in the world. Named by Charles Doolittle Walcott in 1911, The Burgess Shale is typically black in color and contains fossilized impressions that include soft body parts, a feature rarely found in the fossil record and attributed to the environment of deposition. The type location is named for Burgess Pass, and is found near the town of Field in the Yoho National Park, within the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia.
Stepping away from the Bible for a moment and reflecting on the science within these rocks…
The Burgess Shale is given a geological age of 505 million years and is a part of The Cambrian Explosion. The impressions left by this explosion represent a mysterious, rapid expansion or diversification of life here on earth over a relatively short period of time.
“The long-running puzzlement about the appearance of the Cambrian fauna, seemingly abruptly and from nowhere, centers on three key points: whether there really was a mass diversification of complex organisms over a relatively short period of time during the early Cambrian; what might have caused such rapid change; and what it would imply about the origin and evolution of animals. Interpretation is difficult due to a limited supply of evidence, based mainly on an incomplete fossil record and chemical signatures left in Cambrian rocks.”
The sediments that formed these rocks include the fossilized remains that were formed in a rare environment, leading to exceptional preservation. The environment of deposition is thought to have been either a continental slope or a sedimentary basin (basically, a deep drop off located near an area of a reef containing abundant life).
There are some strange critters in the Burgess Shale fossil record, most notably Opabinia, a five-eyed bottom feeder that had a long snout like a vacuum cleaner. Less than 20 good specimens of OpabiniaÂ were found. The Marrella, a peculiar but abundant creature, was originally thought to be like a trilobite by Walcott and was later re-classified in its own Class. Many of the animals of this rock layer were strange and difficult to classify with common species now present on earth.
Along with the Burgess Shale and the Cambrian Explosion come many questions…
Were these the experiments of evolution that simply didn’t survive, or became extinct?
If so, why the sudden emergence of so many species at one time?
The Burgess Shale, and the Cambrian Explosion, is problematic for science as it provides as many questions for evolution as it does answers.
To me, the relevance of the presence of fossilized impressions in rocks is one of the most intriguing questions that I can ask God.
What questions do you have for God about the natural wonders that surround us?