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Charles Walcott

The name most commonly associated with the Burgess Shale is probably Charles Doolittle Walcott (1850-1927). A specialist on Cambrian trilobites and brachiopods, he published hundreds of papers during his long and successful career. One of his greatest contributions to science came with his discovery of the Burgess Shale in 1909.

Artifacts | Publications | Naming | Photography

A Distinguished Career

Charles Doolittle Walcott was a towering figure in the history of American science at the turn of the 20th century. He was director of the United States Geological Survey (1894-1907), Secretary of the Carnegie Institution of Washington (1902-1905), Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (1907-1927), president of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1923) and the National Academy of Science (1917-1922), and even acted as a science advisor to Theodore Roosevelt.

Black and white studio photograph of Charles Walcott

Smithsonian Institution Secretary Charles Walcott (1850-1927) in 1908.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

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Field Research in the Rockies, a Family Affair

Despite his many duties, Walcott remained an active field geologist and paleontologist until his death in 1927. He spent every field season from 1907 to 1925 working at least part of each summer in the Canadian Rockies - often accompanied by his family, including his second wife Helena (from 1907 to 1910), his third wife Mary (from 1914 to 1925), and one or more of his four children (until 1918).

Black and white photo of family of five sitting on a large log in campsite

Walcott's family at Wapta Falls (Yoho National Park), July 1910 (left to right: Stuart, Helena, Sidney, Charles, Helen).

© Erin Younger family collection

Black and white photograph of three men sitting in a quarry, looking at a flat slab of rock

Charles, Sidney and Stuart Walcott at the Walcott Quarry, 1913.

© Erin Younger family collection

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Early Interest in the Rockies: late 1880s

Walcott's interest in the Canadian Rockies began as early as 1886, when fossils were discovered on Mount Stephen in the Fossil Beds (now called the Trilobite Beds). He published two papers (in 1887 and 1888) based on fossils from this locality that had been sent to him by colleagues.

Reproduction of the first page of a journal article entitled 'Cambrian Fossils from Mt. Stephens, Northwest Territory of Canada' by Charles D. Walcott

Charles Walcott's response (published in 1888) to an article on the Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds published a year earlier by Rominger.

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First Visit to the Trilobite Beds on Mount Stephen: 1907

Walcott finally managed to visit the Trilobite Beds in the summer of 1907, but only for a short time. His main aim during the five-week field season was geological: to study the broader stratigraphy of various Cambrian sections in the area, including on Mount Stephen. Walcott spent only one day (Sept. 4th) at the Fossil Beds. Part of his research for that year was published in the scientific section of the Canadian Alpine Journal in 1908 (a publication of the newly-established Alpine Club of Canada).

This publication was the first illustrated account of most of the fossils found at the locality. In it, Walcott proposed the term "Ogygopsis shale" after the dominant form of trilobites found there. (The term is still sometimes used today in the technical literature to refer to the Trilobite Beds.)

Plates 1-4 from Walcott (1908) illustrating some fossils from the Trilobite Beds on Mount Stephen discovered the previous year. The trilobite Ogygospis is represented plate 4 fig. 4. Canadian Alpine Journal

Walcott wrote:

"The best way to make a collection from the 'fossil bed' is to ride up the trail on a pony to about 2000 feet [about 600 m] above the railroad, collect specimens, securely wrap them in paper, place them in a bag, tie the bag to the saddle, and lead the pony down the mountain. A fine lot can be secured in a long day's trip, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m."

At the time, this article would have been widely read by tourists visiting the area, probably encouraging private collectors and visits to the site. (Note: Do not attempt to follow Walcott's advice today! Collecting fossils from the area is not allowed without a research and collecting permit).

Tourists arriving by train would have stayed at the comfortable Mount Stephen House in Field, just below the fossil locality. "All enjoyed the home-like Mount Stephen House" Walcott wrote on Aug 25th 1907. Walcott and his family continued to stay at the hotel in the following years when they did not camp closer to the fossils.

Black and white photograph of Mount Stephen towering over the small town of Field in a valley

Mount Stephen House with the CPR line and the "Trilobite Beds" (top right) along the flanks of Mount Stephen, 1904.

© McCord Museum

Walcott also introduced the term "Stephen Formation" (in a different publication, also published in 1908) as a unit of Cambrian rock which included what he had defined as the "Ogygopsis shale."

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The Great Discovery: 1909

The Walcott family returned to the Canadian Rockies in 1909 to continue exploring the Stephen Formation and to search for more of the "Ogygopsis shale" on nearby mountains.

On Aug. 30th, almost at the end of his field season, Walcott was riding alone between Wapta Mountain and Mount Field, just a few kilometers north of Mount Stephen, on a trail still used to reach the area, when he stumbled on "many interesting fossils". This was a day after he had discovered more "Ogygopsis shale" nearby, according to his field notebook (though not a single specimen of Ogygopsis would ever be found there).

This panorama by Walcott (probably taken in 1910 from Burgess Pass) shows the location of the Burgess Shale site near the centre of the image. The trail used by Walcott when he discovered the first fossils can be seen between Wapta Mountain and Mount Field.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

He returned the next day accompanied by his wife Helena and his son Stuart. Together they found several other remarkable fossils that Walcott immediately sketched in his field notebook. Obviously impressed by this discovery, Walcott's entry for Aug. 31st – Sept 1st reads:

"Out with Helena, Stuart collecting fossils from the Stephen Formation. We found a remarkable group of Phyllopod crustaceans – Took a large number of fine specimens to camp." The next day: "We continued collecting found a fine group of sponges on slope (in-situ) – Beautiful warm days"

Walcott's 1909 field notebook opened to Aug. 31-Sept. 3. The entry mentions the discovery of soft-bodied fossils from the "Stephen Formation" (today's Burgess Shale). Sketches of fossils depicting three arthropods and one sponge found on Aug 31st and Sept 1st 1909 respectively that would later be known as Marrella splendens (top left), Waptia fieldensis (top right), Naraoia compacta (bottom left), Vauxia gracilenta (bottom left). The latter was found in-situ in layers now equivalent to the Raymond Quarry about 22 metres (72 feet) above the Walcott Quarry.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

The fossils discovered by the Walcotts represented types of animals that had never been seen before.

The Walcotts spent a total of five days that year collecting fossils in the area, mostly from loose slabs of rock found near the trail and on slopes.

Walcott quickly realized the importance of his finds. In a letter sent later that year to William Arthur Parks (his colleague and long-term correspondent at the University of Toronto) Walcott wrote: "…I had a few days collecting in the Stephen Formation [today's Burgess Shale] in the vicinity of Field in September, and found some very interesting things."

Letter from Charles Doolittle Walcott to William Arthur Parks relating the discovery of the Burgess Shale, Dated Nov. 27, 1909.

© Royal Ontario Museum

Historical Letters

© Royal Ontario Museum

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First Excavations: 1910

Charles, Helena and three of their children (Helen, Stuart and Sidney), as well as Walcott's long term field camp cook, Arthur Brown, returned to the area the following year (1910). They all camped below Burgess Pass near the 1909 discovery site, a site which they would use year after year. Travelling by railroad and horse, as well as living in the camp and collecting Burgess Shale fossils would become a familiar summer occupation for the Walcotts in the coming years.

Black and white photograph of a man and two women posing in front of rail tracks with mountain in the background

Walcott's family arriving at Field, 1910 (left to right: Helena, Helen, Charles).

© Erin Younger family collection

Black and white photograph of woman with horses on a mountain path

Helen Walcott, Burgess Pass Trail, August 1910.

© Erin Younger family collection

Black and white photograph of a campsite in a clearing, showing a cot in a tent

Charles Walcott "sleeping place", Burgess Pass Camp, August 1910.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

On Aug. 2nd he wrote: "Out collecting with Helena, Stuart and Sidney. We found a fine bed of 'Lace crab' [Marrella] plus various odd kinds of things." They had finally located the source of the fossils in its proper stratigraphic context - i.e., within the rock beds rather than scattered about in loose rocks that had slid down onto the trail.

Black and white photograph of two men reclining in the shade under an outcrop of rock

Charles and Stuart Walcott at the fossil bed, August 1910.

© Erin Younger family collection

From that day on, most fossils would be quarried from several layers within a section two metres (six feet) thick that Walcott subsequently referred to as the "Phyllopod bed." (The name came from the presence of arthropod fossils with finely preserved leaf-like appendages, like Waptia.

Walcott and his team initially dug a small quarry, which would grow much larger over the coming years. (The location is now known as the Walcott Quarry, and the area separating Wapta Mountain from Mount Field is informally known as Fossil Ridge.)

Panorama of the Walcott Quarry in 1910 with Wapta Mountain in the background.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

Excavated blocks of shale had to be slid down the side of the mountain and then transported by horse to camp, where the shale was split, trimmed, and packed. Fossils were then sent to Field and shipped by train to Washington, D.C.

Black and white photograph, four men slide a large slab of rock down the slope of a mountain

Sliding blocks of shale down the slope from the fossil quarry, Charles Walcott holding hammer to the left, August 1910.

© Erin Younger family collection

(Left) Black and white photo of a seated man using a hammer to split a rock. (Right) Black and white photograph of a woman seated at a table, breaking a rock

Charles and Helena Walcott breaking shale in camp, 1910.

© Erin Younger family collection

Getting to the Burgess Shale.

© Erin Younger Family Collection

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Walcott's Camp at Burgess Pass.

Walcott's Camp at Burgess Pass.

© Erin Younger Family Collection and Smithsonian Institution Archives

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Triumph and Tragedy: 1911

1911 marked the first time Walcott had a chance to publish his findings from the "Burgess Shale". In a paper on holothurians and medusae Walcott proposed the name Burgess Shale as "a geographic name for a shale to which the term of Ogygopsis shale [=Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds] was given in 1908. It is proposed to call it the Burgess shale of the Stephen formation".

Walcott named one of the most spectacular fossils Sidneyia inexpectans, meaning "Sidney's discovery", as it was discovered in 1910 by his son Sidney. This became one of the first animals from the Burgess Shale to be described and illustrated. The first reconstruction of this animal appeared in The Ottawa Naturalist in 1917, but proved to be misleading.

Fossil of a lobster-like creature, without claws.

Sidneyia inexpectans, one of the first fossils from the Burgess Shale illustrated and described by Walcott (Figure 1).

© Smithsonian Institution - National Museum of Natural History. Photo (left): Jean-Bernard Caron.

Reproduction of page 78 of 'The Ottawa Naturalist' featuring a large drawing of a lobster-like creature

First restoration of Sidneyia published by Lancaster Burling in The Ottawa Naturalist in 1917 based on a liberal interpretation of Walcott's publications and illustrations of this species (see above). Burling attached two claws that were not connected to the fossils, but were illustrated on a different plate and thought by Walcott to belong to the same animal. (We now know the claws belong to a different group of animals which includes Anomalocaris.

In addition to his technical accounts, Walcott also wrote a popular article for National Geographic in June 1911 called "A Geologist's Paradise", describing the scenic beauty of the region. The Burgess Shale became an instant sensation, quickly spreading beyond conventional scientific circles.

Reproduction of the cover of the June, 1911 edition of The National Geographic Magazine. Contents include 'Panorama: In the Canadian Rockies' by Charles D. Walcott and 'A Geologist's Paradise' by Charles D. Walcott.

Cover image of National Geographic, June 1911.

© Royal Ontario Museum library

1911 also marked the tragic death of Walcott's wife Helena in a train crash on July 11th. (Walcott would later marry the prominent naturalist Mary Vaux in 1914.) Despite his loss, and perhaps to bury his grief in work, Walcott returned to the site with his family in August.

Black and white photo of man and woman in quarry, man is looking at a large slab of rock

Charles and Helen Walcott working at the quarry, August, 1911.

© Erin Younger family collection

His team spent five weeks digging for fossils, occasionally using explosives to blast through the rock. At the end of the season the quarry was about 20 m (66 feet) wide and 3 m (10 feet) deep with a back wall about 3.5 m (11 feet) tall. As in 1910, huge blocks of shale were brought to camp to be split, trimmed, and packed.

Northern end of Walcott Quarry showing tools and large slabs of shale to be transported and split to camp, 1911.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

Black and white photograph of large slabs of rock piled up in front of a tent

Slabs of shale brought from Walcott Quarry to be split in camp, 1911.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

Black and white photograph of man in campsite putting something into a box

Stuart Walcott packing fossils at the Burgess Pass camp, 1911.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

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Continued Field Work: 1912-1917

Walcott returned again in 1912, 1913, and 1917, collecting more specimens and further extending the quarry, but fewer and fewer new species were found.

Walcott Quarry in 1913. Walcott is wearing gloves and holding a hammer, Stuart is seated.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

Walcott had suggested as early as 1912 that the base of his quarry was unsuitable for fossils, writing "The layers of shale are arenaceous, irregular, and not favorable for preserving fossils." In a report published in 1918 he reflected on his 1917 quarrying activities: "this practically exhausts a quarry which has given the finest and largest series of Middle Cambrian fossils yet discovered and the finest invertebrate fossils yet found in any formation in any country."

Charles Walcott posing with a pry-bar at the Burgess quarry 1912 (?)

Charles Walcott posing with a pry-bar at the Burgess quarry 1912 (?)

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

Additional collections from this locality by Harvard University in 1930, the Geological Survey of Canada in 1966-1967 and the Royal Ontario Museum starting in 1975 would disprove Walcott's prediction.

At the quarry.

© Erin Younger Family Collection and Smithsonian Institution Archives

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Final Visits in the 1920s

Walcott made only short collecting trips after 1917, returning in 1919, 1921, and 1924, collecting fossils from loose material below the quarry on talus slope. The day of his last visit to the quarry (July 11th, 1924) he wrote: "We went up to my old fossil quarry and collected 2 packages of fossils from rock quarried in 1919. Nothing new but all good for exchange."

Black and white photograph of Charles Walcott sitting in the middle of a hillside covered with flat rocks

Charles Walcott on talus slope.

© Erin Younger family collection

The Walcott Quarry in 2006. Solid line represents approximate location of the original quarry. Dashed lines represent current excavation limits. The quarry was extended by Harvard University, GSC, and ROM crews.

© Parks Canada. Photo: John Niddrie

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Epilogue: 1924

During Walcott's last summer at the quarry (1924), Percy Raymond of Harvard University made his first visit to the site while leading a summer school course in field geology. Raymond never met Walcott in the field but would soon return to the quarry with more ambitious goals.

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Enduring Legacy: Walcott's Collection at the Smithsonian Institution

Over the course of his many visits to the area, Walcott collected some 65,000 fossils. This collection became one of the jewels of the Smithsonian Institution's permanent collections at the US National Museum (now the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.).

Colour photograph of the main entrance of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural Historys

National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. 2010.

© Royal Ontario Museum. Photo: Jean-Bernard Caron

Specimens received from the field after each of Walcott's collecting seasons were trimmed at the Smithsonian Institution using a rocksaw to remove as much of the surrounding shale as possible. This would have minimized the weight and volume of rock that had to be stored. Catalogue numbers and small, green, diamond-shaped labels were applied to the specimens (35k for the Walcott Quarry specimens and 35k/10 for specimens collected above it – probably representing the level of the Raymond Quarry).

Colour photograph of a fossil and associated, hand-written label. Label reads 'Carnarvonia venosa. Walcott. Mid. Cambrian. Loc. 35k. Identified by C.D.W.'

Example of an original label associated with a Burgess Shale fossil, Carnarvonia venosa in the Walcott collection.

© Smithsonian Institution - National Museum of Natural History. Photos: Jean-Bernard Caron

Specimens were then neatly arranged in trays and organized in successive drawers according to their taxonomic group. Species would be arranged in alphabetical order within phyla, so a specimen of Marrella splendens, for example, would have been placed in alphabetical sequence with other arthropods.

Colour photograph of worker with microscope in a hallway lined with metal cabinets

Walcott's collection at the Smithsonian Institution organized in small cabinets. Desmond Collins observing Burgess Shale specimens.

© Royal Ontario Museum. Photo: David Rudkin

When a single slab of rock was collected with several species visible, each specimen would have been cut out of the larger slab, and the various individual fossils separated and organized in different drawers by species. During this process, parts and counterparts of the same specimens were not kept together and were often dispersed through various areas of the collections.

Colour photograph showing an open drawer filled with fossil specimens

Example of a drawer with Burgess Shale fossils at the Smithsonian Institution.

© Royal Ontario Museum. Photo: David Rudkin

Walcott also sent duplicates of some of his fossils to other museums (often the counterparts) as exchange material, so parts and counterparts of the same specimens (including figured specimens) sometimes ended up in different collections.

Colour photograph of rock slab showing several prominent fossils. Label reads 'Marrella splendens Walcott. Middle Cambrian (Burgess shale). Burgess Pass, Field. British Columbia'

Specimens of Marrella splendens sent by Walcott to the University of Michigan.

© University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology. Photo: Jean-Bernard Caron

Black and white photograph of man in office, seated at desk and looking through microscope

Walcott working at the Smithsonian Institution ca. 1920.

© Erin Younger family collection

After Walcott's death in 1927, his fossils would be largely ignored for nearly 40 years. It was not until 1962 that Alberto Simonetta and Laura Delle Cave published several scientific papers presenting a number of reconstructions of the fossil arthropods. (With a few exceptions, Walcott did not include re-creations of his fossils.) These studies were preliminary and the Walcott collection remained unused until Harry Whittington and his team re-investigated Walcott's collection, along with collections subsequently made by Raymond, and the Geological Survey of Canada.

Even though Walcott observed in the field that some specimens came from particular layers within the Phyllopod Bed, he never recorded the exact stratigraphic origin of his specimens. For this reason, the Smithsonian collection represents a mix of fossils from different layers representing different time periods. The lack of detailed stratigraphic information was one justification for subsequent Geological Survey of Canada and Royal Ontario Museum expeditions.

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The Collection as Basis for Ongoing Research

Today the Walcott collection at the National Museum of Natural History remains a critical reference for the Burgess Shale because it hosts most of the type specimens that were used to describe the majority of species recovered from this site.

Colour photograph of fossil

Type specimen of the arthropod Helmetia expansa in the Walcott collection.

© Smithsonian Institution - National Museum of Natural History. Photo: Jean-Bernard Caron

The collection also continues to provide important new discoveries, mainly from the non-type and non-figured specimens (those specimens that have not been described in print, representing the vast majority of the collection).

For example, two specimens which had clearly been set aside and photographed by Walcott for publication (but for some reason were never included in any of his papers) turned out to belong to a new species. In 2007 the two specimens were used in a publication - together with newly-collected specimens from the Royal Ontario Museum - and the species was named Orthrozanclus reburrus. This suggests more new species could still be awaiting discovery in Walcott's collection, decades after they were unearthed!

Two photographs of the same fossil.

The two specimens of Orthrozanclus reburrus originally collected by Walcott.

© Smithsonian Institution - National Museum of Natural History. Photos: Jean-Bernard Caron

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Campsite objects from Walcott's Expedition

The following objects were discovered by the Royal Ontario Museum during various expeditions to the Burgess Shale starting in 1975. They were found in Walcott's camp below Burgess Pass, about one kilometre (0.6 miles) south from the main Burgess Shale quarry. Rusty cans and tinware are still visible today in several areas of his camp, as well as beds made of now rotting cedar boughs and piles of leftover pieces of shale (from blocks that were brought to the camp to be split and checked for fossils). Many fossils, including Marrella splendens, were found by ROM crews in these debris piles.

Rusty metal piece of a stove

Camp Stove Door from Walcott's Campsite Made by the McClary manufacturing company, early 20th century. marked: 'Camp Stove, BC, McClary M'F'G Co, London, Canada'.

© Parks Canada

The McClary Company of London, Ontario offered a range of camping supplies. Walcott may have purchased field equipment from either the Toronto or Winnipeg outlets when he travelled to the Burgess Shale across Canada by train.

Practical Items from Walcott's 1910 Campsite – all manufactured in the early 20th century

Colour photographs of an antique pill bottle (marked 'F Ridgway Pharmacy Washington, D.C.'), an enameled white metal jug and a badly-rusted metal cup

Medicine bottle (original contents unknown) from Washington, D.C.. marked: "F.H. Ridgway Pharmacy Washington, D.C." White enameled steel water jug and white enameled steel tea cup.

© Parks Canada

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Objects left in the Walcott Quarry, c.1917

These objects were found by ROM crews in 1994 and 1995 when they were removing the piles of debris that had accumulated since Walcott last worked the quarry in 1917. These objects provide important clues to early 20th-century techniques employed by Walcott for extracting large blocks of shale and fossils.

Front page of a newspaper dated 1916, featuring a cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt and the headline 'Funston Believes U.S. and Carranza Troops Beat Villa'

Bundle of newspapers from Washington, D.C. dating from 1913-1916.

© Parks Canada

These newspapers were found frozen in a block of ice in 1995 by a ROM crew digging at the debris that had fallen into the Walcott Quarry. Newspapers were used to pack fossil specimens, and these were left behind after Walcott's 1917 field season. (The cartoon on the front page represents Theodore Roosevelt.)

Colour photo of rusty metal wedge showing signs of wear

Large metal wedge likely used for breaking rocks or to make holes for dynamite sticks.

© Parks Canada

Hitting the wedge with heavy hammers and rotating it regularly would have had the same effect as a pneumatic or gasoline rock drill. But it would have required a great deal of effort to make a hole large enough for a stick of dynamite. (Some pitting from dynamite explosions is still visible in the back wall of the quarry.)

Colour photo of rusty metal wedge showing signs of wear

Broken splitting chisel found in 1994 in the Walcott Quarry.

© Parks Canada

Chisels like this were used to carefully split shale in the search for fossils. This one was probably left behind because the flat tip had broken against the hard shale.

Colour photograph of three-fingered leather glove showing clear signs of wear and holes along thumb

Leather miner's glove early 20th century.

© Parks Canada

Such triple-digit gloves provided warmth and a comfortable grip in all seasons. The leather is thick and was probably sufficient for protection against the sharp edges of the shale during quarrying and collecting operations.

Colour photograph of clearing in woods, showing piles of rocks

View from Walcott's camp taken in 1982 showing rotting cedar boughs and piles of leftover pieces of shale. Compare with views taken at the time of Walcott's expeditions.

© Royal Ontario Museum. Photo: D. Collins.

Walcott's Artifacts.

© Royal Ontario Museum

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Faced with the huge task of describing the many new animal and algal forms he collected during his excavations, Walcott opted to publish short descriptions of many fossils in a series of monographs that he himself considered preliminary works.

He published his work in various volumes of the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections series (not surprisingly, as Walcott was Secretary of the Smithsonian at the time). These monographs remain invaluable reference works and are still the only source of information for some taxa.

It is worth emphasizing that most of Walcott's publications were based on material that had been collected in his earlier expeditions, especially during his 1910 and 1911 field seasons. With a few notable exceptions, fossils discovered in later years were not described in print.

In 1911 he published three monographs, based mostly on material he collected during his 1910 field season. These described arthropods ("Merostomata" including Sidneyia), holothurians and medusae, and annelid worms.

Reproductions of three editions of the Smithonian Miscellaneous Collections: Cambrian Geology and Paleontology. All written by Charles D. Walcott and dated April 8, 1911, June 13, 1911 and September 4, 1911.

Walcott's 1911 studies on the Burgess Shale published in three separate volumes of the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections.

Walcott published a larger study on the arthropods in 1912, including Marrella, Waptia, and Naraoia (the first fossils he discovered in 1909). This was followed by monographs on trilobites (1918), algae (1919), and sponges (1920). Many more specimens were described in a final, posthumous monograph (edited by Charles Resser) published in 1931.

Walcott named more than 60 new genera and many new families that he placed within established orders and classes. In addition to these named specimens, Walcott recognized many other new forms which were neatly organized in his collections (sometimes with suggested new names on small note cards), but he did not have time to describe all of them during his lifetime.

Examples of plates published by Walcott, including the animals Marrella (left plate) Waptia (Middle plate fig. 4 and 5) and Naraoia (Right plate fig. 3 and 4) described and illustrated by Charles Walcott. (Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, 1912)

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Walcott had to provide new names for both the genus and the species of his many fossil discoveries. He would often turn to the natural features in the area (mountains, peaks, glaciers, valleys, waterfalls, lakes, passes, creeks) for the name of a new genus. Most of these features had been named during the late 19th century by explorers and early surveyors. (Otto Klotz, for example, named Mount Burgess in 1886 after the Deputy Minister of the Interior Alexander Burgess.)

Some of the local names Walcott chose were based on Stony or Cree Indian words, such as Waptia (from "Wapta" meaning river), Takakkawia (from "Takakkawa" meaning magnificent), and Yohoia (from "Yoho" representing a cry of astonishment).

On the left, a modern colour photograph of a waterfall. On the right, a black and white photograph of a fossil sponge

Takakkaw falls (Left) and the sponge Takakkawia (right).

© Royal Ontario Museum. Photos: Jean-Bernard Caron

Names of other genera were chosen from personal names (Sidneyia for his son Sidney, Marrella for his friend John Edmund Marr from Cambridge University), general geographic names (Canadia and Canadaspis), towns (Banffia and Laggania – after the hamlet of Laggan, now Lake Louise) or railway points (Eldonia and Leanchoilia). Species names were mostly based on descriptive terms such as compacta, elongata, perfecta, or triangulata.

Map showing the location of geographic features used by Walcott to name his species.

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Walcott used photography to document his scientific work.

In the field he used various cameras including a Cirkut Camera to produce stunning panoramic images. Many of these images were then published in scientific or popular accounts.

Black and white photograph of man standing on slope, pointing a tripod-mounted camera off to the side

Walcott taking pictures using a Cirkut camera (undated).

© Erin Younger family collection.

Walcott's 1911 article in National Geographic called "A Geologist's Paradise" included a supplement featuring several images including one of his panoramic images of the area. The image folded out to a size of 2.5m (8 feet), making it the single largest photograph ever included in the magazine. (See cover of the 1911 article in the section “Triumph & Tragedy: 1911” and Walcott’s panorama in the section “The Great Discovery: 1909”)

Walcott's photos.

© Royal Ontario Museum

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Slide show about Walcott's Photography.

© Erin Younger Family Collection and Smithsonian Institution Archives

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Walcott used a series of photographs to illustrate his work back in Washington, but because it was difficult to obtain good images of the fossils, he modified many photos for publication (see Orthrozanclus below).

Such modifications were a common practice at the time to enhance features that were difficult to show using contemporary photographic techniques. But they would not be acceptable for scientific publication today because they can sometimes add subjective features that are not present on the specimens.

Two photographs of the same fossil. On left, a very clear, modern photograph. On right, a less-clear image that has gray lines drawn on in pencil

Left Orthrozanclus reburrus in the Walcott collection. Right, same specimen photographed by Walcott with some features enhanced using a pencil.

© Smithsonian Institution - National Museum of Natural History. Photos: Jean-Bernard Caron.

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