The alien-looking fossils unearthed by a team of scientists co-led by Pomona College Professor of Geology Robert Gaines, are the subject of a new cover story in the latest issue of Science. 

The article, “Cracking the Cambrian,” takes readers to Kootenay National Park in Canada and the fossil-rich sites that Gaines and the team discovered in 2012.

The sites are home to Burgess Shale fossil beds where more than ten thousand specimens, including unfamiliar and new animals, have already been found by the team. The animal fossils are from the Cambrian period, which saw a sudden explosion of animal life, and offer an increased understanding of early animal evolution on Earth. 

“More than 80 percent of diversity of life leaves no fossil record but here we have fossils that offer a remarkably complete picture during this ‘pop’ in evolutionary history,” says Gaines. The fossils, which show soft tissues, including eyes, muscle bands and gills, have been found along a 10-mile band of what was once sea floor, now located high in the Canadian Rockies.

The team of scientists includes Gaines, a geologist from Pomona; Jean-Bernard Caron, curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto; and paleontologist Cedric Aria of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Paleontology in China; as well as a group of graduate students. Among them are recent Claremont Colleges graduates Ellie Ellis PI ’18, a current Watson Fellow, and Iris Holzer SC ’17 and Alex Lombardo CMC ’17, both graduate students at UC Davis.

Founded in 1880, Science is published weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s oldest and largest general science organization.