THE BURGESS SHALE STORY - PIECE 3 - THE MEANING OF THE BURGESS SHALE

Host Voice:
13 secs

For many decades after Charles Walcott's 1909 discovery and vast collection of the unique fossils of the Burgess Shale, in Yoho National Park, further scientific interest seemed to sleep.
33 secs

4 secs
Many believed the fossil-bearing beds had been quarried away.
37 secs

9 secs
Eventually it was realized that Walcott's collection and preparation methods, and his interpretation of the finds had become outmoded. 46 secs

17 secs
And so, first in 1966 with another prominent scientist of his day, Dr. Harry Whittingdon, of Harvard, at the re-opened Walcott quarry; and in 1975, with exclusive area expeditions permitted to the Royal Ontario Museum, was launched the modern era. 63 secs

CBC Ideas
Don Lessem
39:24-39:34
11 secs

"It was the specimens collected in 1966 by Whittingdon and painstakingly studied by him and his students for a decade after that that remade our understanding of the Burgess Shale."
74 secs

Host Voice:
16 secs
Using finer tools not available in Walcott's day, including an innovative minute dental drill, microscopes and ultra-violet radiation photography Whittingdon was able to study the specimens from both sides of split rock. 90 secs

CBC Ideas
Don Lessem
39:35-39:51
17 secs
"Whittingdon discovered that the animals Walcott thought were smashed flat had some 3-dimensional structures after all. He meticulously picked away the thin carapaces to expose flattened innards. He enlarged microscopic views of these bodies onto boards and drew detailed images." 107 secs

39:53-39:59
7 secs
"He.......concluded that Walcott was wrong in his classification time after time." 114 secs

Host Voice:
16 secs
Nowhere was this type of error more evident than in the story of the creature called "Anomolacaris", meaning strange shrimp. It turned out to be something else quite unexpected: a 500,000,000 year old predator! 130 secs

Dr. Derek Briggs
9:26-9:34
9 secs
"Anomolacaris turns out as we now know it as essentially the largest Cambrian predator." 139 secs


Host Voice:
10 secs
Dr. Derek Briggs, professor at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, and one of the students first hired by Dr. Whittingdon in 1972. 149 secs

14:18-14:33
16 secs
"Prior to that people had this fanciful notion that the Cambrian was a sort of gentler time, food chains had not evolved and communities were much simpler." 165 secs

Host Voice:
5 secs
How had this been missed by earlier scientists? Here's the fascinating answer. 170 secs

9:58-10:66
9 secs
"It's an animal at the largest size probably got up to maybe half a metre in length." 179 secs

10:07-10:16
10 secs
"But usually it had a couple of great grasping appendages at the front of the head which it used to capture prey." 189 secs

10:17-10:21
5 secs
"and it had a disc-like mouth." 194 secs

10:30-10:43
14 secs
"So when individuals decayed, the pair of front appendages and the two circular jaws were incorporated into the sediment, and everything else tended to disappear for the most part."
208 secs

11:00-11:02
3 secs
"The legs alone were discovered..." 211 secs

11:06-11:12
7 secs
"and they were interpreted initially as the body of some kind of shrimp." 218 secs

11:13-11:23
11 secs
"in the meantime the circular jaw had been found and was interpreted as a jellyfish I guess." 229 secs

Host Voice:
8 secs
It was ALL ONE ANIMAL! and Dr. Briggs recalls the moment Dr. Whittingdon finally grasped this. 237 secs

Dr. Derek Briggs
13:40-13:42
3 secs
"It was a eureka moment." 240 secs

13:21-13:25
5 secs
"I was actually with him when we tumbled to that realization..."
245 secs

13:29-13:36
8 secs
"Between us, looking at these specimens we realized that the legs belonged, but also the jaw-like structure." 253 secs


Host Voice:
20 secs
Opabina Regalis was another bizarre animal, with 5 eyes, lobes and segments and a trunk with claws at the front. It and many others defied conventional classification and prompted one of the most startling theories about the history of life then to emerge; the major role of chance. Dr. Stephen Jay Gould.
273 secs

CBC Ideas
Dr. Stephen Jay Gould
19:08-19:11
4 secs
"The Burgess Shale is one quarry." 277 secs

19:15-19:34
20 secs
"There are obviously not many species of organisms in it-a few hundred perhaps at most-and yet it turns out that those few species represent a range of anatomical design that's far greater than what we see today, perhaps in all the world's oceans."
297 secs

Host Voice:
18 secs
Dr. Stephen Jay Gould was a paleontologist with Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, the same office once occupied by Dr. Harry Whittingdon, and author of Wonderful Life, the Burgess Shale Story bestselling book that catapulted the finds, and what they may mean, to the public stage.
315 secs

42:11-42:16
6 secs
"It's become necessary to entertain seriously the more radical view, 321 secs

42:17-42:29
13 secs
namely that survivorship is something of a grand-scale lottery and consequently I think we have to assume that the existence of any lineage on this planet, including our own is that tenuous." 334 secs

Host Voice:
12 secs
Dr. Gould's controversial theories may not yet survive the new tests of high scrutiny, but the massive public and scientific response to his 1989 book remains his enduring legacy.
346 secs

CONCLUSION-EXTRO

Host Voice:
42 secs
August 2009 is the 100th anniversary of the Burgess Shale finds, and Parks Canada has many activities planned in commemoration. These will include art exhibits, public presentations by the world's leading scientists in Banff, campground theatre productions, interpretive hikes to the fossil beds all summer, and much, much more.

Contact Parks Canada for more information on any of these opportunities.

Contributors were Don Lessem, and the late Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, courtesy of CBC Ideas, and Dr. Derek Briggs of Yale University.

The Burgess Shale Story is sponsored by Parks Canada and the Friends of Banff Park Radio.
388 secs