In this episode, we travel to the Burgess Shale: a set of incredible fossil beds in Yoho National Park, preserving 500-million-year-old soft-bodied sea creatures. Today, it is part of a huge World Heritage Site: it has expanded to encompass all of Yoho National Park here in BC, Jasper and Banff, Kootenay, and three BC provincial parks. But back in 1980, the Burgess Shale sites at the Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds and the Walcott Quarry became the first little nucleus of that World Heritage site.
We find out how these fossil sites ended up on that list, what kind of information and evidence and argument were used to lobby for a spot, how it changed this space, and what it all means.
This episode is a recording of a short talk Chris gave on March 25, 2022, called Making Space for Fossils: How the Burgess Shale Claimed a Spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The presentation was part of the University of Alberta History, Classics, and Religion Graduate Students’ Association’s annual conference. This year’s theme was Recovery: Promises and Pitfalls.
Some parts of the talk refer to pictures and videos, which you can find in this PowerPoint Presentation with all the slides.
Ovatiovermis fossil feeding motion – Royal Ontario Museum
(A visualization of the fossil organism whose second specimen was found by a visitor on a Burgess Shale hike)
- UNESCO World Heritage Site application for Burgess Shale (1979) – no attachments.
- UNESCO World Heritage Site application for Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks expansion (1990) – this one has all the attachments and documents from 1979, 1984, 1990.
- Hal Eidsvik interview from the Oral History Archives of the World Heritage Convention
- Uses of Heritage – Laurajane Smith
- Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation
- BC Historical News – February 1973
- Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History – Stephen Jay Gould
- “Light-fingered public pockets fossils” (Calgary Herald June 12, 1982)
- Area Restriction Maps: Walcott Quarry and Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds (Parks Canada)
- Inhabited: Wildness and the Vitality of the Land – Phillip Vannini and April Vannini
- “Scientists just found a 500-million-year-old worm with legs” (Popular Science, February 1, 2017)