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Murray Coppold & Wayne Powell – A Geoscience Guide to the Burgess Shale

July 25, 2008

93. A Geoscience Guide to the Burgess Shale: Geology and Paleontology in Yoho National Park by Murray Coppold and Wayne Powell (2006)

Length: 76 pages

Genre: Non-Fiction

Started: 21 July 2008
Finished: 24 July 2008

Burgess Shale quarry site

Burgess Shale quarry site

I know quite well that no one is going to read this review and go “Oh, god, YES, I have to find a copy of this book to read immediately!” (Although if you do have a burning desire to read it, there are a few used copies on Amazon, or you can get it directly from the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation or the Friends of Yoho.) I also know that there are probably very few people who are thinking to themselves “Man, I wish I could spend my Friday afternoon reading about paleontology guides.”

View of Emerald Lake along the trail to the Burgess Shale

View of Emerald Lake along the trail to the Burgess Shale

But I am writing this review anyways, because 1) it’s what I do when I finish books, and 2) I want to brag a little about actually hiking the 13 miles (round trip) to see the original Burgess Shale quarry site, which was pretty darn spectacular (the hike, I mean; the quarry site itself was kind of like “Yup, that’s an outcrop of rock. Man, my feet are cold and wet.”). Anyways, when I got back down the mountain, I found that my parents had spent at least part of the day in the gift store, getting me a T-shirt (which sadly did not say “I hiked all the way to the diversification of multicellular life and all I got was this lousy T-shirt”) and this book to commemorate the experience. And so I read it. Because that’s what I do.

Summary: This slim little book includes sections on the geology and paleontology of the Burgess Shale formation, including how the Rockies formed, where, when, and how the Burgess Shale formed (what is now southwestern Alberta was on the equator at the time), why it’s such an important fossil location, what life was like in the mid-late Cambrian (~505 million years ago), and the recent history of the quarry site, from discovery through recent research. It also has short descriptions of several species of animals from the shale (not complete by any means, but hits most of the common and/or really weird ones), as well as a nice section describing the various trilobites found here and at the nearby Mt. Stephen Trilobite bed.

Olenoides trilobite from the Burgess Shale

Olenoides trilobite from the Burgess Shale

Review: This really is a quick-and-dirty guide to the Burgess Shale; covering every topic in a page or three, but never getting particularly in-depth on anything. Because it’s so quick, the comprehension level got a little bit hard: I am not a geologist, so parts of those sections certainly went right over my head, as I’m sure some of the paleontology and evolution sections would to non-specialists. The best thing about this book is far and away the number of pictures and illustrations it contains – topographic and stratigraphic maps of the area, photos of actual fossils (with scale bars, which is always nice) and artists’ re-creations of the actual animals, historical photographs of Walcott’s work at the quarry, and diagrams explaining plate tectonics, mountain building, and patterns of global climate change. For the most part, it’s a quick, easy read full of soundbites of information but without a ton of depth. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Opabinia, one of the Burgess animals.  Five eyes!  And a snout-claw!

Opabinia, one of the Burgess animals. Five Eyes! And a snout-claw!

Recommendation: This book is mostly going to appeal to people who’ve been to the area and want a quick reminder of what their tour guide told them. If you’re interested in learning more about the Burgess Shale, I’d recommend picking up Stephen Jay Gould’s Wonderful Life, a well-written and accessible discussion of the creatures of the Burgess Shale and their place in the history of life.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 25, 2008 4:30 pm

    Dang! I’d totally want a shirt like that. But hey, I’m the one who hiked four miles across a marsh on 2 X 12 boards to look at an archaeological dig at Neah Bay, and dragged my entire class with me. They were so thrilled when we got there and ….tada….yep, it was a big ole muddy hole in the ground next to the ocean. (I thought it was cool….)

  2. July 25, 2008 4:39 pm

    Kelly – How old were the kids in your class? I’ve taken highschoolers on “forced marches” before, and doing it across a marsh on boards sounds like its own special variety of hell.

    Also, there’s probably an (even more) limited market for the T-shirts advertising the hike, since you’re only allowed inside the protected area around the quarry if you’re with an official guided hike, so it’s probably only 50 people per week or so. Which, while good for conservation, is bad for cool t-shirt variety. :)

  3. emmegail permalink
    September 16, 2008 2:08 pm

    “Oh, god, YES, I have to find a copy of this book to read immediately!” Not really, but I really enjoyed the review and reading about the hike!
    -emmegail (geologist) =)

  4. September 17, 2008 5:42 pm

    emmegail – Heh. Thanks for stopping by – it’s always nice to find another science-y person bumming around the book blog world.

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