High in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, the animals of an ancient ecosystem can be seen battling for life. The fossils of the Burgess Shale offer a glimpse at the incredible diversity of early life on Earth, frozen in time and locked in stone — you just have to go digging to see it.
Working at 2,500 metres above today’s sea level, a group of scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) chipped away at a prehistoric, tropical sea floor that was once a thriving community of the planet’s first animals. The story of the team’s incredible discoveries is told in First Animals, a documentary from The Nature of Things.
The fossils of the Burgess Shale are very special. First discovered in 1909 in B.C.’s Yoho National Park by famed naturalist Charles Walcott, the fossil beds have preserved, in incredible detail, the strange animals from our distant past.
Typically, only bone or hard shells become fossilized over millions of years, while soft tissues like cartilage, skin and muscle decay very quickly. But here in the Burgess Shale, the conditions were just right for preventing decomposition, an underwater landslide trapping ancient animals in mud and perfectly preserving them for over half a billion years.