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The Royal Ontario Museum and Parks Canada bring ancient creatures to life
Digital reconstruction of what Marrella splendens might have looked like in life.

TORONTO, ON.- The Royal Ontario Museum and Parks Canada announced the launch of the Burgess Shale online exhibition, as part of the Virtual Museum of Canada. The website provides, for the first time ever, an immersive journey into the world of the bizarre prehistoric creatures that formed the foundation for all animal life on Earth half a billion years ago. Through the use of never-before-seen visuals, including stunning virtual animations, the website brings to life over 100 years of research and discoveries, in which the ROM and Parks Canada play a vital role.

The online exhibition showcases Yoho National Park’s 500-million-year-old Burgess Shale fossils. Considered the most current and comprehensive resource for knowledge on the Burgess Shale, the website features an authoritative fossil gallery including approximately 200 species, almost every Burgess Shale species ever described. The creatures are highlighted by a rich collection of high resolution images and life-like models or digital reconstructions for over 70 species.

“The ROM is immensely proud to collaborate on this project,” said Janet Carding, Director and CEO of the ROM. “The Museum plays a leading role in this online exhibition because of the importance of our collections, as well as the expertise of our research team who are able to tell the stories of these ancient animals. We are delighted to now share this knowledge with the world.”

One of the fascinating animals included is the Cambrian’s largest known predator Anomalocaris canadensis, whose name means “strange shrimp of Canada”. The ROM discovered the most complete fossil found to date for this creature, recognized by its two distinctive spiny claws and unusual circular jaw. The Burgess Shale website provides context for this animal like never before with animations representing Anomalocaris swimming and rotating, while another portrays the animal alongside others of the Burgess Shale community. An additional highlight of the exhibition allows viewers to take a fascinating virtual dive into the Cambrian sea to explore vivid animations of ancient marine animals and algae, interacting as they would have in life. There are also sections on history, research and practical information for visitors to the Burgess Shale.

The exhibition’s content and concept were directed by the ROM’s Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology, Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, who specializes in the study of early animal evolution, and continues to lead field expeditions to the Burgess Shale. The ROM holds in trust Parks Canada's collection of Burgess Shale fossils and the two organizations work together to protect, interpret and present this significant resource, including collaboration on the new web site.

“I am truly astounded by the wealth of fun, accessible and compelling scientific knowledge this pioneering website contains,” said the Honourable Peter Kent, Canada's Environment Minister and Minister responsible for Parks Canada. “Parks Canada is proud to partner with the ROM and Canadian Heritage to bring the amazing stories of the Burgess Shale to all Canadians.”

Located near Field, British Columbia, in the Canadian Rockies, the Burgess Shale contains some of the world’s most spectacularly preserved fossilized remains of soft-bodied organisms from the Cambrian explosion, a period of rapid diversification of life on Earth. First discovered in 1909 by palaeontologist Dr. Charles Walcott, the Burgess Shale continues to yield important scientific discoveries. Many of today’s animals, including snails, sea stars, crabs, and, remarkably, modern mammals, can trace their roots to this unique period in time.

Long-term study and preservation of the Burgess Shale eventually led to it being recognized as one of Canada’s first World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1981. Now protected under the larger Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks UNESCO World Heritage Site and managed by Parks Canada, the Burgess Shale attracts thousands of visitors to Yoho National Park each year for guided hikes to the restricted fossil beds from July to September.

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