The 366 daily episodes in 2014 were chronological snapshots of earth history, beginning with the Precambrian in January and on to the Cenozoic in December. You can find them all in the index in the right sidebar. In 2015, the daily episodes for each month were assembled into monthly packages, and a few new episodes were posted. Now, the blog/podcast is on a weekly schedule with diverse topics, and the Facebook Page showcases photos on Mineral Monday and Fossil Friday. Thanks for your interest!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

February 12. The Burgess Shale and Charles Walcott

So much has been written about the Burgess Shale I’m not sure there’s much I can add, given how accessible that information is today. I’ll just say that the soft-bodied fossils found in the Burgess Shale, in the Canadian Rockies near the town of Field, British Columbia, were some of the most weird and wonderful fossils ever found. They are the subject of Stephen Jay Gould’s 1989 book, Wonderful Life, which I recommend highly. It’s a wonderful book, and a great starting point for exploring the Cambrian explosion through the explosion in scientific investigation that has taken place in the past 25 years.

Walcott and his son and daughter working in the Burgess quarry, c. 1913.
But maybe I can talk about Charles Doolittle Walcott, the man who discovered the Burgess fauna. Walcott was born in New York in 1850. He never finished High School, but he became a knowledgeable expert on New York’s fossils, and when he was 29, he joined the new United States Geological Survey as a geological assistant. 15 years later, he was the director of the Geological Survey.

His middle name, Doolittle, certainly seems like a misnomer, because he was always a doer, and he did a lot.

He became the Secretary, which is to say the head, of the Smithsonian Institution in 1907 and continued in that job until he died in 1927. In those days, the head of the Smithsonian was anything but a desk bound bureaucrat, and it was in that job that he led fossil explorations to the Canadian Rockies, where he discovered the Burgess fauna in 1909. Over the next 15 years, his digs uncovered more than 65,000 specimens and brought them back to the Smithsonian.

Today, February 12, is the birthday of Charles Darwin in 1809, the same day Abraham Lincoln was born. Charles Walcott received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cambridge in 1909 as part of the centennial celebration of Darwin’s birth. February 12, 1813, was the birth date of James Dwight Dana. He devised the system of mineralogy, and wrote the textbooks still in use with revisions, today, that have educated tens of thousands of geology students over the past 150 years or more. Yet another prominent geologist was born on this day, in 1850. William Morris Davis came up with some of the earliest theories of landscape formation and erosion. Many of those ideas have been superseded, but Morris laid the groundwork for the modern science of geomorphology.    
—Richard I. Gibson

Photo (public domain) from Smithsonian via Wikipedia.

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