Making Space for Fossils

An interpretive hike guide from the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation at the Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds in 2016.

I’m in the middle of a master’s degree program at the University of Alberta, pursuing an MA in history focused on paleontology and power in Yoho National Park. My supervisor, Liza Piper, has taken me under their wing on a larger SSHRC project investigating environmental history in the Rockies.

This episode of my history podcast Let’s Find Out presents a chunk of my research project so far. In this episode, we travel to the Burgess Shale: a set of incredible fossil beds in Yoho National Park, preserving 500-million-year-old soft-bodied sea creatures. Today, it is part of a huge World Heritage Site: it has expanded to encompass all of Yoho National Park here in BC, Jasper and Banff, Kootenay, and three BC provincial parks. But back in 1980, the Burgess Shale sites at the Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds and the Walcott Quarry became the first little nucleus of that World Heritage site.

We find out how these fossil sites ended up on that list, what kind of information and evidence and argument were used to lobby for a spot, how it changed this space, and what it all means.

My work has been supported by a graduate research fellowship from Dr. Piper, a Dianne Samson Graduate Travel Award, a Walter H Johns Graduate Fellowship, a Canada Graduate Scholarship – Master’s from SSHRC, and a Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation Graduate Fellowship.

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