Burgess Shale Projects

The Cambrian radiation represents the sudden worldwide appearance and rapid diversification of animals. The record of this critical event is documented in a series of exceptional fossil deposits with preservation of soft-bodied animals, especially in China and Canada. The Burgess Shale, located in the UNESCO World Heritage Canadian Rocky Mountain Park in British Columbia represents one of the most famous palaeontological localities anywhere. This site is famous for its exquisite preservation of soft-bodied animals dating from the Middle Cambrian (505 million-year-old) period. Preserved with stunning clarity, Burgess Shale fossils provide an unprecedented source of ecological and biological information not available in most fossil deposits.

The Burgess Shale projects are a series of integrated and collaborative research programs that Jean-Bernard Caron, Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology, implemented soon after joining the ROM in early 2006. These projects are primarily focused on the study of fossils from the extensive Burgess Shale collection, with the intent to fulfil the ROM's collaborative agreement with Parks Canada (for whom we hold the fossils in trust) to present (interpret) Burgess Shale fossils to the public (as stipulated by the World Heritage Convention of UNESCO). (Visit Parks Canada Burgess Shale page here).

The first paper to be published from this research program appeared in the July 13, 2006 issue of the international science journal Nature (see below). Assistant Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology, David Rudkin, was also involved in this study. In this paper, the authors reinterpreted the problematic animal Odontogriphus from the Burgess Shale as a member of an ancestral group of shell-less and grazing molluscs, based on hundreds of new specimens showing exquisite soft-tissue preservation. They also proposed that Odontogriphus and Wiwaxia (another enigmatic fossil from the Burgess Shale) were related and shared an ancestor in the Ediacaran Period, possibly allied to Kimberella, known from Russia and Australia. This research story was widely circulated in the press (e.g., Globe and Mail, CBC News) and radio (e.g. Radio Canada International, CBC French Radio programs).

Jean-Bernard has also established collaborative projects with colleagues in China to quantitatively sample Lower Cambrian localities containing soft-bodied preservation in southwest China (Yunnan province) for direct comparisons with Burgess Shale material.

Visit the Virtual Museum of Canada Burgess Shale website to learn more about the Burgess Shale.

Portrait of Jean-Bernard Caron-2012

Jean-Bernard Caron

Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology

Area: Natural History, Fossils & Evolution

Interests: Burgess Shale, Cambrian Explosion, Evolution, Origin of animals, Palaeocology

Exhibitions & Galleries: Gallery of Early Life

Phone: 416.586.5593


Half-a-Billion-Year-Old Tiny Predator Unveils the Rise of Scorpions and Spiders
September 11, 2019

Two palaeontologists working on the world-renowned Burgess Shale have revealed a new species, called Mollisonia plenovenatrix, which is now considered to be the oldest chelicerate.


Huge cache of fossils from the Burgess Shale reveal a new species of large predator
August 1, 2019

We recently unveiled fossils of a new large predatory species in a paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. This animal had rake-like claws and a pineapple-slice-shaped mouth at the front of an enormous head, and it sheds light on the diversity of the earliest relatives of insects, crabs, spiders, and their kin.

Reconstruction illustration of Cambroraster falcatus.






B.Sc., Earth and Life Sciences, University Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand, 1997
M.Sc., Earth Sciences, University Claude-Bernard, Lyon, 1999
Ph.D., Zoology, University of Toronto, 2005

Jean-Bernard Caron is a Senior Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology at the ROM.

Previous position held at the ROM: Associate Curator and Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology (2006-2016)

A profound curiosity about fossils during his childhood led Jean-Bernard Caron to collect and curate his own personal fossil collection in his native France. By the age of 10, he knew he wanted to become a professional palaeontologist. As a teenager, he often joined various professional field crews across Europe for summer field expeditions collecting fossils, and the experience gained as a volunteer field assistant led to an invitation from Desmond Collins, then Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology at the ROM, to join his field crew at the famous Burgess Shale fossil deposit in British Columbia in 1998. This was his first visit to Canada, and he returned to the Burgess Shale as a ROM volunteer for the following two summer field seasons.

His Master's thesis dealt with Banffia constricta, one of the most bizarre animals known from the Burgess Shale. This study was followed by a PhD on the taphonomy and paleoecology of the Burgess Shale community. By the end of his PhD project, Jean-Bernard had examined about half the Burgess Shale specimens (more than 70,000 fossils) stored at the ROM, which houses over 150,000 specimens, representing the world’s largest collection of its kind. After being awarded a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council post-doctoral fellowship (Government of Canada), he joined the ROM as Associate Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology in early 2006, thus finally fulfilling his long-standing childhood dream.

At present, his main responsibilities are to curate and interpret fossils from the very large ROM Burgess Shale collection as well as to continue fieldwork activities. The ROM collection represents a real Pandora’s Box for science, with many new organisms still to be described. He also studies fossils from other Burgess Shale-type deposits, particularly in China.

At the end of 2011, Jean-Bernard launched the "Virtual Museum of Canada website on the Burgess Shale", a joint effort between the ROM and Parks Canada. This bilingual website has received over 2.3 Million pageviews since Jan 1st, 2012.

Screenshot of the Burgess Shall Virtual Museum website

Academic Links

Associate Professor, University of Toronto - Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Associate Professor, University of Toronto - Earth Sciences Department

See also Focus on Research page.

Awards & Recognition

Jean-Bernard was the recipient of the 2010 Pikaia award from the Canadian Geological Association in recognition of his contribution to the profile of Canadian paleontology through his research. The nomination citation (PDF) praised him as "an exceptionally innovative and productive young paleontologist who shows promise for continuing excellence in Canadian paleontological research."

Jean-Bernard received two awards for "Virtual Museum of Canada website on the Burgess Shale": the Paleontological Association Golden Trilobite Award (2011) and the Ontario Museum Association Award for Excellence in Publications (2012).

Research Grants

Jean-Bernard's research at the ROM is partially funded by an NSERC Discovery grant (2017-2022) under the program, "Burgess Shale fossils from Marble Canyon (Canadian Rockies) and the early diversification of animals" see Research Page for more information.


Karma Nanglu (PhD) - (2013-current)

Cédric Aria (PhD) - (2012-2017)

Lorna O'Brien (PhD) completed (2008-2013)

Martin Smith (PhD) completed (2008-2012)

Allison Daley (PhD) completed (2006-2010)


Google scholar profile, with list of citations, click here.

*Doctoral research supervised or co-supervised

  • Bicknell, R. D. C., Paterson J. R., Caron, J.-B. and C. B. Skovsted 2018. The gnathobasic spine microstructure of recent and Silurian chelicerates and the Cambrian artiopodan Sidneyia: Functional and evolutionary implications. Arthropod Structure & Development 47(1): 12-24.

  • Parry, L. A., Smithwick F., Nordén K.K., Saitta E.T., Lozano-Fernandez J., Tanner A.R., Caron, J.-B. et al. 2017. Soft-bodied fossils are not simply rotten carcasses – Toward a holistic understanding of exceptional fossil preservation. BioEssays 40, 1700167-n/a.

  • Moysiuk*, J., Smith, M., Caron, J.-B. (2017). Hyoliths are Palaeozoic lophophorates. Nature. 541, 394–397.

  • Nanglu*, K., Caron, J.-B., Conway Morris S. & Cameron C. 2016. Cambrian suspension-feeding tubicolous enteropneusts. 14:56. BMC Biology. Publication July 7.

Recent Publications