Derek Briggs

Derek Briggs

Derek Ernest Gilmor Briggs is an Irish paleontologist and taphonomist based at Yale University. Briggs is one of three paleontologists who were key in the reinterpretation of the fossils of the Burgess Shale.


Professional achievements

While at the University of Cambridge, Briggs worked on the fossils of the Middle Cambrian Burgess Shale of British Columbia alongside British paleontologists Harry Blackmore Whittington and Simon Conway Morris on the exceptionally well-preserved Burgess Shale fauna. The Burgess Shale project subsequently became one of the most celebrated endeavors in the field of paleontology in the latter half of the 20th century. Briggs is currently Director of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics and Curator in charge of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. In July 2008 he took over as director of the museum. Briggs is a Fellow of the Royal Society and winner of the 2001 Boyle Medal.

Briggs's research is on the taphonomy, or preservation, and evolutionary significance of the exceptionally preserved fossil biotas known as Konservat-Lagerstätten - fossil formations that include evidence of faunal soft tissue. His work involves a range of approaches from experimental work on the factors controlling decay and fossilization, through studies of early diagenetic mineralization and organic preservation, to field work on a range of fossil occurrences.


Date Position
1974–1977 Research Fellow, Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge
1977–1985 Department of Geology, Goldsmiths College, University of London.
1985–2002 Department of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol (Chair 1997–2001)
2001–2002 Visiting professor, Department of Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago
2003– Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics and Curator in charge of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
2004– Director of the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies


Selected works

  • Derek E. G. Briggs, D. H. Erwin, and F. J. Collier. The fossils of the Burgess Shale.
    • A report on superbly fossilized prehistoric life in the Cambrian period of the early Paleozoic era.
  • Derek E. G. Briggs, C. Bartels, and G. Brassel. The fossils of the Hunsrück Slate.
  • Derek E. G. Briggs and Peter R. Crowther, eds. (2003). Palaeobiology II. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-632-05147-7 and ISBN 0-632-05149-3.
  • Derek E.G. Briggs, Nicholas H. Barton, Jonathan A. Eisen, David B. Goldstein, and Nipam H. Patel. Evolution.
    • An undergraduate textbook which integrates molecular biology, human genetics, and genomics with traditional evolutionary studies.


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