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Geologic Map
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Generalized Geologic Map of the Conterminous United States
North America Shaded Relief


  The North American Tapestry of Time and Terrain

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Legend and Rock Ages
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Burgess Shale


Close-up of geologic map of Burgess Shale area


One of the most important fossil sites in the world, the Burgess Shale, discovered by Smithsonian paleontologist Charles Wolcott in 1909, offers an exciting look at the diversity of aquatic life over 500 million years ago. The fossils are those of some of the earliest multi-cellular organisms, a product of the Cambrian Explosion, a geologically short period (about 20 million years) of great evolutionary development during the Cambrian. Some of the creatures are so well preserved that not only hard parts such as shells are visible, but soft tissue like guts, gills and muscle are also found. Fossils have been found in the Burgess Shale that correspond to each of the phyla in the modern taxonomic system, as well as some that do not fit into any contemporary classification—evolutionary strands that were cut short.