discovery expeditions

It’s time for #TrilobiteTuesday! Some of us may imagine that all we need do to find a museum-worthy trilobite is stroll by an appropriately aged sedimentary outcrop. After all, trilobite fossils are omnipresent remnants of creatures that appeared in prodigious numbers throughout the Paleozoic era—a time that traversed more than 270 million years of earth history. But it’s not that easy! The fact is that discovering a trilobite usually takes quite a bit more effort than some may realize, and sometimes it requires a little bit of luck. Perhaps the “classic” example of this occurred when renowned paleontologist Charles Walcott stumbled upon the legendary Burgess Shale in British Columbia during the early years of the 20th Century. Story has it that while traversing a narrow path through the mountains in his search for fossil sites, he got off of his horse to examine the animal’s injured foot. While looking down, he saw a fossil-bearing chunk of matrix, possibly containing a Kootenia burgessensis, pictured here, which had conveniently tumbled down the cliff-side before coming to rest in prime viewing position. Its discovery motivated Walcott to begin extensively exploring the adjoining mountainside until he found the narrow band of Middle Cambrian rock from which the original trilobite had emerged. The rest, as they say, is history.