Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 2:15 PM


ANDERSON, Thomas B., Geology, Sonoma State University, 1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA 94928 and JAMES, Matthew J., Geology, Sonoma State University, 1801 E Cotati Ave, Rohnert Park, CA 94928-3609,

The Cambrian Burgess Shale lagerstatten localities in British Columbia have been a successful field trip destination from the Department of Geology at Sonoma State University since 2003. The Walcott Quarry and the Mount Stephen Fossil Beds are reached on guided hikes by the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation (BSGF) or Parks Canada. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1981, collecting is forbidden. During the hikes, knowledgeable guides make stops to describe the history, paleontology, stratigraphic significance, and tectonic context. Field trip base and accommodations are in Field, BC.

The Walcott Quarry, discovered by C.D. Walcott in 1909, and excavated by him during the next several years, is reached by a 20 km round trip hike with 760 m of vertical climb. Abundant fossils, including soft-bodied forms, make the Burgess Shale unique. At the quarry, well-preserved fossil specimens are displayed with drawings of reconstructions. The Mount Stephen Fossil Beds were discovered by R.G. McConnell in 1886 after a railroad worker, Otto Klotz, found “stone bugs” (trilobites) during construction of the trans-Canada rail line. These beds are rich in trilobites and Anomalocaris grasping claws. The Mount Stephen hike is shorter (6 km round trip) with the same vertical component.

The fieldwork is the precursor to a semester-long class at Sonoma State University. After the August field trip, students meet for the Fall Semester and research the taxonomic history of a particular fossil genus. Enthusiastically received by students, class evaluations have been very favorable. In 2009, the centennial of Walcott’s discovery, we conducted the trip for seven college professors under the rubric of the International Paleontological Research Exchange Program of the BSGF.

Student educational benefits are numerous. Students, in a spectacular setting, learn fossil history, paleontology, and are exposed to numerous questions still being debated including the depositional environments, preservation mode, evolution of body parts, and the Cambrian explosion. Comparative stratigraphy is used to contrast the Burgess Shale to our usual field trips in Cambrian rocks near Death Valley. A hike on the Athabasca Glacier and a stop at the Royal Tyrrell Museum and its exceptional displays including a Burgess Shale section are added benefits.