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

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  • This scholarly article concerns the Cambrian Period fossil finds made by Smithsonian Secretary Charles D. Walcott in the Burgess Shale area near the town of Field, British Columbia, Canada. The writing is based on information recorded in Walcott's diaries from 1909, when he discovered the area while on a summer geologic expedition, through 1924, which was his last year working in the fossil quarry. A short Abstraction of the article is followed by an Introduction describing the location of the biota, which the author claims to be the single most important fossil discovery ever made. Other publications based on Walcott's writings are noted, and an abbreviated biography is given, including information about Walcott being director of the U. S. Geological Survey.
  • The body of the article is ordered chronologically and consists of excerpts from Walcott's diaries, with comment by the author following each entry as interpretation or elaboration on the information from the diary, based on his knowledge and experience in the field of paleontology. The diary excerpts describe the lifestyle and hardships which existed in a research field camp setting of the 1900's. The author concludes that Walcott was a prodigious collector who gathered many thousands of fossil specimens for the National Museum of Natural History, or for exchange with other museums, during his years at the quarry, and defends Walcott against his few detractors.


  • Walcott, Charles D (Charles Doolittle) 1850-1927
  • United States Geological Survey (USGS)
  • National Museum of Natural History (U.S.)


Smithsonian Institution History Bibliography


The author is a Research Associate, Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Fourteen photographic plates are included in the article, which is followed by references.

Contained within

Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Vol. 140, No. 4 (Journal)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,


December 1996


  • Scientific expeditions
  • Geology
  • Invertebrates, Fossil
  • Secretaries
  • Paleoontology
  • Burgess Shale (B.C.)
  • National Collections
  • Paleontology
  • Fossils
  • Paleobiology


British Columbia

Physical description

pgs. 469-545

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