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Discovery, Collection, and Description of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale Biota by Charles Doolittle Walcott

Ellis L. Yochelson
Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society
Vol. 140, No. 4 (Dec., 1996), pp. 469-545
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/987289
Page Count: 77
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Discovery, Collection, and Description of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale Biota by Charles Doolittle Walcott
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Abstract

The remarkable fossils of the Burgess Shale provided a unique insight into early life. The daily diaries of Walcott provide unique insight into his wholesale collection of this material, year after year. Obtaining these fossils was very much a family affair and engendered far more physical effort than has been recognized by most subsequent authors. Gould (1989) severely criticized Walcott's descriptive work, notwithstanding that much of it was based on forms with no close living or fossil relatives. Diaries and publications show that he described the fossils in a timely manner, remarkably so considering Walcott's many other commitments. Walcott was also perceptive in a biologic sense, recognizing that many of the fossils did not fit into then-recognized families, orders, or occasionally even classes. He did not name any new classes or phyla based on these extinct organisms, even today a point of argument. For a man in his sixties, collecting tens of thousands of fossils from this locality more than a mile above sea level, was a remarkable feat of physical effort; their prompt description was an impressive intellectual feat. These fossils remain Walcott's single most important legacy to paleontology.

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