Together the Royal Ontario Museum and Parks Canada have created a spectacular website about the Burgess Shale or Les schistes de Burgess. The English and French website contains high quality still and moving images of this amazing paleontological site located in Yoho National Park, part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. As you will read later, the Smithsonian played a small role in contributing to this project.
Approximately a half billion years old, the Burgess Shale is a Cambrian period formation and one of the earliest fossil beds in which soft-bodied fossils of animals and algae are preserved. The new website documents over 125 years of discoveries including current research by the Royal Ontario Museum Burgess Shale Expeditions through a number of dynamic features.
- History page discusses the first discovery and subsequent discoveries most notably by Charles Walcott, Percy Raymond, the Geological Survey of Canada, and ongoing efforts by the Royal Ontario Museum.
- Science page provides information about a number of topics including the Cambrian explosion, geology of the Burgess Shale, and videos depicting various aspects field work currently taking place.
- Virtual Sea Odyssey and Fossil Gallery contain photographs and digital animations of fossils.
In addition to the features outlined above, the website also includes links to resources and information about Parks Canada.
Sarah Stauderman, Principal Investigator of the Field Book Project’s conservation efforts, is acknowledged on the Burgess Shale website credits page for her assistance with Smithsonian archival materials related to Charles Walcott.
The Smithsonian Institution maintains a substantial collection of photographic and other materials related to Walcott, including 42 field books housed within the Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 7004, all of which have been cataloged by the Field Book Project. Although Smithsonian field books won't be available on the Burgess Shale website,the field books do provide rich information for further understanding the abundant information, media tools and resources available on the Burgess Shale website.
More about the Charles Walcott field notes
Charles Walcott’s field books at the Smithsonian Institution Archives range more than fifty years (1879-1940). Some of his early field notes were composed in a journal style, including general observations, daily work completed, sketches of landscapes, as well as geological information relating to the surveys he completed for the United States Geological Survey. Most of the field notes in his collection contain few general observations and more commonly consist of geological sections, descriptions, and observations of fossils seen, and pertinent details about surrounding vegetation and environment. Often his notes were on loose sheets of note paper removed from their original notebook and separated by entry.
By the time he studied the Burgess shale in British Columbia, Walcott’s field note entries consisted of several pages clearly listing location and describing observed sections, with height of each layer, its composition, color, texture, other characteristics, as well as presence of fossils. See examples of Walcott’s field notes below.
Field notes of Charles D. Walcott, August 6, 1909, describing of geological formation of
Moraine Lake at Valley of the Ten Peaks, Banff National Park, Canada.