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the Cambrian - 543 to 490 Million Years Ago

World Paleogeography: The supercontinent Pannotia had begun to break up as the Iapetus Ocean formed in between Laurentia (North America), Siberia, Baltica (North Europe), and Gondwana (South America, Australia, Africa, India, and Antarctica). Throughout the Cambrian, Siberia remained east of Laurentia, while Baltica was moving south of Siberia and southeast of Laurentia. Also moving south was Gondwana, the largest continent, which stretched from the Equator to the South Pole.

North American Paleogeography: Fossil evidence tells us that Laurentia was centered on the Equator and rotated so that in present-day terms, Canada was east, instead of north, of the United States. As with most of the continents, the majority of North America was underwater throughout the Cambrian Period. Small landmasses in the central part of the continent shed sediment in this shallow sea. Farther out, away from this influx of sediment, shallow water limestones were deposited in a broad arc stretching from present-day Maine south to Texas and up to the Canadian Rockies. Beyond this region, deeper water deposits accumulated.

Paleontology: Animals with hard skeletons first appeared in the Cambrian and the diversity of life on Earth increased very rapidly. Because most of the animal phyla first appear in the fossil record over such a short interval of time, people sometimes call this the "Cambrian Explosion." It was once thought that the Cambrian rocks contained the first and oldest fossils, but we now recognize that life has a history that begins about 3.5 billion years ago, near the beginning of the Precambrian. The shallow Cambrian seas contained the first trilobites and brachiopods, as well as archaeocyathids (early sponges) and a number of strange, early echinoderms. The Burgess Shale of western Canada is an exceptional site where we find fossils of many rarely preserved soft-bodied organisms, among them a possible chordate, Pikaia.

North America Today

Geologic activity over the last 490 million years has removed or covered up most of the Cambrian rocks of North America. Today, rocks of this age can be found below the surface in many places, and while many states have exposures of Cambrian rocks, they are generally smaller than exposures from other periods. Cambrian exposures can be found in areas like the Basin and Range (throughout the West), the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains, and in New England, as well as in Wisconsin and many other states. The world famous Burgess Shale occurs in Cambrian rocks exposed in the Canadian Rockies; trilobites can be found in Cambrian-age rocks in northwestern Mexico.

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Links to more about the Cambrian

Careers | Collecting and Legalities | Research and Collections | Organizations | Education and Exhibits | Research and Collections | Resources


Degree and Certificate Programs (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Montana State University- Earth Sciences: Train to be a paleontologist in the MSU Undergraduate and Graduate Paleontology Programs. The Earth Sciences Department at MSU caters to both paleobiology and taphonomy interests.

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Collecting and Legalities

Where to Collect Fossils (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Penn Dixie Paleontological and Outdoor Education Center: A natural history center, where visitors can collect their own trilobites. The web page includes information on how to get to the site, fossils which can be found there, and other information.

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Research and Collections

(showing 1 of 1 listings)

The Natural History Museum, London's conodont collection: This database gives broad information about discrete collections within the conodont collection housed at the NHM. Generic, specific and subspecific names are included in the database, but the data is being updated regularly. As a result, the database is best searched by name of donor/collector/publisher or by geological period. Links to images are included with some collections.

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Societies and Clubs (showing 1 of 1 listings)

The Yoho-Burgess Shale Foundation: This non-profit educational organization provides an introduction to the fossils, geology, and history of research of the Burgess Shale, as well as details on how to get there and what to do.

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Parks (showing 2 of 2 listings)

Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada: This official site of the National Parks of Canada has information on the fossils and rocks of the Burgess Shale, where, when, and how to get to the park, what to see and do, and where to stay.

The Burgess Shale: One of the world's most important fossil finds, the Burgess Shale, is located in Yoho National Park of Canada. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1981, the Burgess Shale Formation contains the fossilized remains of more than 120 marine animal species dating back 515 million years.

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Museums (showing 2 of 2 listings)

University of Alaska Museum of the North--Arctic Dinosaurs and More: This is the principal natural history museum of Alaska and the Arctic. It features collections & exhibits of Arctic dinosaurs, Quaternary mammals, including unequaled mummified remains,Teriary and Mesozoic collections of mollusks. 

Garvies Point Museum official website: Garvies Point Museum and Preserve is located on Long Island's north shore in New York State. We are a center for regional geology research. Our exhibits deal with regional (Long Island and New York State) geology, fossilization and minerology and the ehnography and archaeology of northeastern Native Americans. Our exhibit "Drifitng Lands and Ancient Seas" details the geology of New York State coordinated with plate tectonics. 

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Education and Exhibits

Virtual Exhibits (showing 3 of 8 listings)

Burgess Shale Exhibit- University of California Museum of Paleontology: Find additional information and links on the fossils and paleoenvironment of the Burgess Shale.

Virtual Museum of Fossils: Geosciences, at Georgia's Valdosta State University, presents an interactive virtual museum of invertebrate and vertebrate fossil specimens. Explore the collection by animal, or by time period from Precambrian to Quaternary. Maps are detailed and include ecosystem distribution. Fossil photographs, many showing multiple views, list information about where the fossil was found, and how it is categorized taxonomically. Some pages feature a drawing of the animal's skeleton showing the fossil bone in red.

The Third Planet - a walk through geologic time: This virtual exhibit offers a tour of the Milwaukee Public Museum's geology exhibits, depicting the continuing evolution of the Earth from the Precambrian to present.

More Virtual Exhibits

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Research and Collections

Ongoing Research Projects (showing 2 of 2 listings)

Carnegie Museum: Invertebrate Paleontology Section: The Carnegie Museum of Natural History Section of Invertebrate Paleontology has more than 100 years of research, field work, educational outreach (PALS), and exhibits on Phanerozoic life. Our collections number more than three-quarters of a million specimens with some 11,000 type and figured specimens published in more than 300 professional publications. Our type and collection strengths are concentrated in the Lower and Upper Paleozoic rocks of the Appalachians, mid-continent, and western Interior Seaway. 

Burgess Shale Research page at the Royal Ontario Museum: This page provides information on research being conducted at the Royal Ontario Museum on fossils from the Burgess Shale, with a list of recent publications. Links to press releases of important discoveries and podcasts are also provided.

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Researchers (showing 3 of 3 listings)

University of Iowa Paleontology Repository: The UI Paleontology Repository is home to over a million fossils from all over the world and from all time periods, and is used for research and teaching. We also provide education services, hands-on tours around the collections and geology exhibits for schools and community groups, and fossil identification and collection care services.

Dr. Thomas W. Kammer: Specialty: Evolutionary paleoecology of Paleozoic crinoids, plus lithostratigraphy, biostratigraphy, and sequence stratigraphy of marine Mississippian rocks in the east-central United States. Field areas include West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa.

Paleobotany and Palynology at the Florida Museum of Natural History: The Paleobotany and Palynology Collection at the Florida Museum of Natural History is international in scope, including collections from 47 countries. Systematically the greatest strength of the collection is in Cretaceous-Tertiary angiosperms.

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Databases (showing 3 of 4 listings)

New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Web-based Paleo-database Home Page: Search the fossil collections of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. Listings by Kingdom down to species, era, epoch, group, formation, country, New Mexico county, and map ID. Many listings contain images of the fossils (including all holotypes.) 

The Paleointegration Project: The PaleoIntegration Project (PIP) is facilitating interoperability between global-scale fossil and sedimentary rock databases (e.g. The Paleobiology Database and the Paleogeographic Atlas Project), enabling a greater understanding of the life, geography and climate of our planet throughout the Phanerozoic. Databases can be searched via text and interactive maps, and by any combination of age, location, or content. Results can be plotted on present- and paleo- maps or downloaded for detailed analyses.

Fossils in My Back Yard: Explore a geologic map of Iowa, county by county, to see lists and photos of fossils in the collections of the University of Iowa Paleontology Repository.

More Databases

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Annotated Bibliographies (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Bibliography of Paleobotany: A bibliographic database of paleobotany including more than 56,000 entries. It also includes references on Antarctic geology and paleontology and citations on Women in Science.

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Field Guides (showing 3 of 5 listings)

The Burgess Shale fossils: This site provides a description of the Burgess Shale and its stratigraphy, the Walcott quarry, and prominent fossil specimens (with photos) from this famous British Columbia locality.

Trilobites In The Marble Mountains, Mojave Desert, California: Take a virtual field trip to a classic trilobite site on California's Mojave Desert; detailed text; images of fossils; on-site images; links to the early Cambrian and to trilobites.

Trilobites In The Nopah Range, Inyo Country, California: Take a virtual field trip to a classic trilobite site on California's Mojave Desert; detailed text; images of fossils.

More Field Guides

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Maps (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Paleogeography and Geologic Evolution of North America: The images presented here show the paleogeography of North America over the last 550 million years of geologic history.

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Image Collections (showing 3 of 3 listings)

Michigan Basin Specimen Database: This site showcases Michigan Basin fossils from the private collections of Friends of the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology and select specimens from the University of Michigan collection, including type specimens.

Some Fossil Brachiopods: Images of several fossil brachiopods, dating in geologic age from early Cambrian to Pleistocene, with explanatory text.

Ordovician Fossils in Ogle County, Illinois: An amateur collection of fossils gathered at various sites in Illinois, primarily Ordovician.

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Courses and Lectures (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Paleogeography of the Southwestern U.S.: The paleogeography of the southwestern U.S. from 1.8 billion years ago to 10 million years ago. Text and images by Dr. Ron Blakey from Northern Arizona University.

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On-line Journals/Publications (showing 1 of 1 listings)

Reinterpretation of Climactichnites Logan 1860 to Include Subsurface Burrows, and Erection of Musculopodus for Resting Traces of the Trailmaker: A 2008 journal article by P.R. Getty and J.W. Hagadorn concerning these enigmatic trace fossils.

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General Reference (showing 3 of 3 listings)

Fossils In Death Valley National Park: The paleontology, geology and natural wonders of Death Valley National Park (and more); many images of fossils; field trips; paleontology links, plus links to Death Valley.

List of Dinosaurs: This dinosaur listing is data-packed and can be sorted by dinosaur length, weight, time period, etc.

Trilobites and the Cambrian Environment in Utah: Trilobites are probably the most common fossils collected in Utah; many world-class specimens from this state reside in museums throughout the world. This page from the Utah Geological Survey web site offers information on what trilobites are and where they are found in Utah.

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