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Detailed information on the exhibits, research projects, and programs tailored for journalists. For more information or questions please contact Burke Museum Public Relations.

December 03, 2004

Evolution’s Big Bang

Smithsonian Exhibit in Seattle

Now through March 6, 2005

Seattle—The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is showcasing the Smithsonian exhibit, The Burgess Shale: Evolution's Big Bang, an exhibit of strange, small fossils with a big bang. This exhibit tells the story of one of the most important fossil sites in North America.

The extraordinarily diverse 500+-million-year-old fossils include the ancestors of virtually all known living animals—as well as mysterious and still controversial creatures unlike any known today.

The small fossils were discovered in 1909, high in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, in Canada's Yoho National Park. Since then, the Burgess Shale has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is still being actively excavated and researched.
These creatures are an important find not only because they reveal a shocking diversity of life forms, but also because these particular fossils show the soft body parts, providing scientists with more detail than typically found in fossils.
See fossils and drawings of the odd shaped, curious-looking creatures discovered on the historical site. Ranked as one of the 20th century's most significant paleontological discoveries, the Burgess Shale was discovered in the early 1900s by Charles Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
Many of the fossils found in the Burgess shale are among the earliest representations of virtually all-modern, multi-cellular animals. Others appear unrelated to any living forms and their later disappearance presents an intriguing mystery to paleontologists.
The exhibit explores current theories about the "Cambrian Explosion" (543 million - 490 million years ago), a period of time when a burst of evolutionary activity generated a sudden increase in the complexity and variety of animal life. The exhibit also presents highlights from the story of early life on Earth.

Detailed descriptions and illustrations of the extraordinary creatures found in the Burgess Shale are combined in the exhibit with the stories and methods of the paleontologists who traveled to the remote Canadian Rockies in the early 1900s to collect and study these fossils.
The Burgess Shale: Evolution’s Big Bang is presented by the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution and the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). Local sponsors: the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences, Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation, The Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation, Canadian Studies Center at the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, Canadian Tourism Commission, Consul General of Canada, Experience POP Design and Technology, King County Library System, 98.1 KING FM, Parks Canada, Seattle Times Newspapers In Education, The Mountaineers, and Travel Alberta.

Related Events

Slide Show on Hiking the Burgess Shale
Thurs., Feb. 10, 2005 6 pm
Mountaineers Hall, Seattle
The Burke Museum and the Seattle Chapter of the Mountaineers will hold an informational presentation on hiking the Burgess Shale fossil site at the Mountaineers Hall located at 300 Third Avenue West. This presentation is an introduction to those interested in taking the private hike and tour in August 2005 with the Burke Museum. For more information, contact the Burke Museum at 206-543-7907.

Lecture and Slide Presentation:
Evolutionary Expert to Speak- Dr. Desmond Collins
Thurs., March 3 6:30 pm
Evolutionary expert, Dr. Desmond Collins, will share his perspective on the evolutionary tale told by the fossils of the Burgess Shale. Illustrating his talk with slides, Dr. Collins will discuss the bizarre creatures found at the Burgess Shale fossil site. This extraordinarily diverse 500+-million-year-old site is a window into life and evolution.

Burgess Shale Fossil Site – Private Tour
August 2005

Sign up for a private tour of the Burgess Shale site in the Canadian Rockies of Canada. A guide from the Burgess Shale Geoscience Foundation will lead a group of Burke patrons into the site and provide fascinating information about the history of the site and the fossils within it. The 12 mile round-trip hike will take participants up to the Walcott Quarry, where they will be able to view wonderfully preserved fossils of 505-million-year-old Cambrian Life. For more information, contact the Burke Museum after December 1, 2004.


The Burke Museum is located at the corner of NE 45th St and 17th Ave NE on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm daily, and until 8 pm on 1st Thursdays. Special exhibit fee is $8.00 adult (18–64), $6.50 senior (65+), $5 youth/students (w/ID), and FREE to children 4 and under. Admission is free to Burke members, UW students, faculty, and staff, and to the public on the first Thursday of each month. Please call 206-543-5590 or visit www.burkemuseum.org.

(206) 543-9762; FAX (206) 616-1274