In The Field

Burgess Shale Centenary: a hike to Walcott quarry


So I hiked up to the famous quarry itself on Saturday, on a day with remarkably clear blue skies and cool mountain air. It’s relatively strenuous – about 3 or 4 hours uphill, with a few steep sections, and then an unremitting 3 hours of knee-pounding downhill switchbacks. If you fancy seeing the quarry for yourself, you’ll need to sign up for a guided tour. The quarry is a national herritage site, so you can’t wander in there alone, nor can you take any fossils away with you. This was, of course, a source of great despair to the paleontologists on our hike, who found fossils (some relatively rare) and were forced to simply put them back on the ground and walk away. (If truly interesting pieces are found, they are put in a locked cupboard in the quarry for study and/or to show tourists like us some good specimens from the site.) There aren’t exactly fossils on every bit of loose shale, but there are a reasonable few scattered around. Enough that, for example, I ate my lunch whilst sitting on a trilobite. We spent our time in the quarry marvelling at the view (we didn’t know which way to look – out towards Emerald lake and Walcott peak, or in towards the quarry), taking commemorative pictures with Derek Briggs (who famously helped to recognise the strange character of many Burgess shale fossils) and with a toy model of opabinia, which one of the researchers had brought up with him specifically for the photo-op. Marianne Collins was also on our tour — the artist who drew many of the recreations of these creatures, including the five-eyed, long-snouted opabinia. A glorious end to a fantastic meeting.

Image: Your intrepid blogger with Derek Briggs

Posted on behalf of Nicola Jones


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