Paleontologists excavating a site in the Canadian Rockies known as the Burgess Shale have discovered the fossilized remains of a heretofore-unknown species of arthropod with a distinctive horseshoe-shaped upper shell. They whimsically named the species Cambroraster falcatus after the Millennium Falcon starship piloted by Han Solo in the Star Wars franchise. The discovery, reported in a new paper in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, sheds light on the diversity of the earliest relatives of insects, crabs, and spiders.
Discovered in 1909 by paleontologist Charles Walcott and dating back to the mid-Cambrian era some 508 million years ago, the Burgess Shale has since become one of the richest troves of preserved fossils from that period. The late Stephen Jay Gould immortalized its importance in his bestselling 1989 book, Wonderful Life, in which he argued (somewhat controversially) that the sheer diversity of the Burgess Shale fossils was evidence for several unique evolutionary lineages that became extinct, rather that continuing down to today's modern phyla. The Burgess Shale was declared a World Heritage Site in 1980.
In 2013, scientists discovered yet another piece of the Burgess Shale in Kootenay National Park and excavated the fossilized remains of some 50 new species in just 15 days. That's the area where a team of paleontologists affiliated with the Royal Ontario Museum discovered this latest arthropod.