The Burgess Shale has been an anomalous geologic unit ever since Walcott named it in 1911 as the geographic equivalent of the Ogygopsis Shale in the Middle Cambrian Stephen Formation of southeastern British Columbia, but it has never been recognized outside of its type locality, so its status relative to the Stephen Formation remained uncertain. The geologic setting of the Burgess Shale was determined by Aitken and Fritz in 1968, when they recognized the Cathedral Escarpment and divided the Stephen Formation into a "thin" platformal succession on top of the Escarpment, and a "thick" basinal succession, which included Walcott's Burgess Shale, in front. Fieldwork by Royal Ontario Museum parties between 1982 and 1997 has now demonstrated that the thin and thick Stephen successions lie within different facies belts and should be regarded as separate formations; the Stephen Shale Formation is part of the Middle Carbonate Belt succession, whereas the name Burgess Shale Formation is applied to the thick basinal succession within the Outer Detrital Belt Chancellor Group. Ten distinct members are recognized in the Burgess Shale: Kicking Horse Shale, Yoho River Limestone, Campsite Cliff Shale, Wash Limestone, Walcott Quarry Shale, Raymond Quarry Shale, Emerald Lake Oncolite, Odaray Shale, Paradox Limestone, and Marpole Limestone. In contrast to the Stephen Shale Formation with its nonsequences, the thicker Burgess Shale Formation seems to represent continuous deposition spanning the Glossopleura to Bathyuriscus-Elrathina zonal boundary, incorporating the Polypleuraspis insignis and Pagetia bootes subzones and the main part of the Pagetia walcotti subzone.

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