Treasure trove of fossils found in Canada will 'significantly' change understanding of evolution

Old bones galore!

A massive trove of fossils discovered by researchers in British Columbia, Canada, will "significantly increase our understanding of animal evolution," according to the group's lead researcher Jean-Bernard Caron.

The discovery was made in 2012, but was published only this week in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

Already, 50 animal species have been unearthed.

The find was made at Kootenay National Park, about 26 miles from Yoho National Park, where some of the planet's earliest fossils were discovered more than a century ago, according to a statement from the Royal Ontario Museum.

"The rate at which we are finding animals — many of which are new — is astonishing," Caron told the Daily Mail. "There is a significant possibility that we'll eventually find more species here than at the original Yoho site, and potentially more than from anywhere else in the world."

Researchers believe the find "will greatly further our understanding of the sudden explosion of animal life during the Cambrian Period," which National Geographic describes as having produced "the most intense burst of evolution ever known." BBC classifies the Cambrian period as beginning 545 million years ago and ending 495 million years ago.

The exact location is being kept a secret to prevent amateur diggers and lookie-loos from potentially damaging more yet-to-be discovered treasures.

"We were already aware of the presence of some Burgess Shale fossils in Kootenay National Park," geologist Robert Gaines said in a statement. "We had a hunch that if we followed the formation along the mountain topography into new areas with the right rock types, maybe, just maybe, we would get lucky — though we never in our wildest dreams thought we’d track down a motherload like this."

There are timeline implications to the find, as well. The Royal Ontario Museum explains that some of the species that were recently at Kootenay were also seen "in China’s famous Chengjiang fossil beds, which are 10 million years older." 

The implication being that the "worldwide distribution of Cambrian animals, as well as their longevity, might have been underestimated," according to the museum. reports that researchers plan to return this summer.

Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).

Related: 12-million-year-old whale fossil discovered at school.