The role of minerals in Burgess Shale–type fossilization is controversial, particularly that of the clay mineral kaolinite. Kaolinite may have formed on carcasses or attached to them as they decayed, stabilizing organic matter. Alternatively, kaolinite may have formed during metamorphism, playing no role in the preservation of soft tissues. Evaluating the formation and taphonomic role of kaolinite is difficult, because the mineralogy of Burgess Shale–type fossils is incompletely known. We used in situ selected-area X-ray diffraction to constrain the mineralogy of fossils from the classic Burgess Shale Formation in British Columbia, Canada. Fossils can be distinguished from the matrix that surrounds them by the presence of dolomite, kaolinite, and pyrite. Chlorite may be more abundant in the matrix. The preferential survival of kaolinite in association with fossils provides evidence of early diagenetic clay-organic interactions that protected the clay from metamorphic transformation. Kaolinite likely played a crucial role in fossilization, inhibiting the growth of heterotrophic bacteria and aiding polymerization of soft tissue biomolecules. This may result in biases in soft-tissue preservation to areas and times where kaolinite was prevalent.

You do not have access to this content, please speak to your institutional administrator if you feel you should have access.