Charles Doolittle Walcott

Charles Walcott in the Walcott QuarryCharles Walcott, a self-educated Palaeontologist, was best known for his contributions to the science of palaeontology and for heading three of the most important scientific institutions in the United States: the US Geological Survey, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academy of Sciences. He was interested in nature from an early age, collecting various minerals and animal specimens and fossils. Walcott never finished high school but instead was driven by his natural curiosity to learn more about geology and fossils.

Walcott was particularly interested in the Cambrian layer, and made many field trips throughout the United States, linking the fossils he collected to the sequence of rocks in a way that made important contributions to the science of stratigraphy. His expertise in the Cambrian layer brought him to the Canadian Rockies in 1907, having heard reports that Canadian Pacific Railway workers had collected “stone bugs." He first visited a site on Mt. Stephen in July, 1907, and published a comprehensive account of the fossils from that location in 1908.

Walcott returned in 1909, and discovered the first fossils from the Burgess Shale site along the horse trail near Burgess Pass during the last week of August. The following season, he located the source of the fossils higher up on Fossil Ridge, and began excavating. The fossils, with their exquisite preservation, were unlike anything he had seen before. He named the site the Burgess Shale, after nearby Mt. Burgess. Between 1910 and 1924, Walcott returned repeatedly with his family to collect more than 65,000 specimens, now housed in the Smithsonian Institution, from what is now known as the Walcott Quarry.