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Fossil bed found in Canada could yield new clues to earliest animals

Feb. 12, 2014 at 3:10 PM   |   Comments

EDMONTON, Alberta, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Paleontologists say they've uncovered a fossil bed in Canada that equals and may even surpass the country's famous Burgess Shale fossil site.

The 505-million-year-old Burgess Shale in Alberta's Yoho National Park, discovered in 1909, has yielded fossils of some of the planet's earliest animals, including a very primitive human relative.

Now, just 25 miles away in another national park -- Kootenay -- another shale fossil bed has been discovered, dubbed Marble Canyon, which could equal the Yoho site in importance, a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications said.

The find was made by an international team of researchers who collected thousands of specimens representing more than 50 species, several of which were new to science.

"This new discovery is an epic sequel to a research story that began at the turn of the previous century. There is no doubt in my mind that this new material will significantly increase our understanding of early animal evolution," study lead author Jean-Bernard Caron said.

"The rate at which we are finding animals -- many of which are new -- is astonishing, and there is a high possibility that we'll eventually find more species here than at the original Yoho National Park site, and potentially more than from anywhere else in the world," he said.

Many of the species previously known from Yoho are better preserved in Kootenay, retaining never-before-seen anatomical details that are important for understanding the shape of the animal "family tree," the researchers said.

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