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Record in Sedimentary Rock

Level: Introductory

In some places like the Grand Canyon, thousands of feet of vertical rock are exposed. This rock consists mainly of sediments deposited in flat layers (strata), one on top of the other. Many people find it easy to believe that millions of years passed while these rocks accumulated. But the whole topic depends upon how fast the sedimentary layers were deposited. Different rates can produce totally different answers, even as different as millions of years compared to one year. So, how can we study the issue of what a reasonable speed might be?

There are a number of features of sedimentary rocks that indicate that these rocks were laid down very quickly. Let’s take a look at some of these.

Sudden Permanent Burial

Except for hard parts of animals such as bone or shell, fossilization is only possible if organisms were quickly and permanently buried under tremendous loads of sediment carried along by fast moving water (or on a local basis by volcanic eruptions or landslides). For example, more than 10,000 dinosaur footprints have been uncovered in coal mines near Grande Cache, Alberta. These footprints were discovered under a layer of coal in a mine. Imagine the process of rapid permanent burial under plant fragments carried in and accumulated from water. This plant material was bulky enough to later harden into widespread coal deposits. This was not a local little event!

Near Fort McMurray, Syncrude Canada discovered an almost complete articulated skeleton of an ichthyosaur. This one is on display in the Royal Tyrrell Museum. Ichthyosaurs lived in the sea, were shaped something like fish, but were air breathing. This specimen was about 12 feet long (3.5 m) and you can see a shiny black liquid seeping from the end of its tail, dripping through the rock below. Think about how much sediment would be needed to engulf and bury so large a creature. While you are at it, think about the sauropod dinosaurs which were as much as 60 feet (18 m) long. How did they come to be entombed in such sediments?  

No Time for Erosion between Layers

Each collection of sediment which sinks from water typically takes the form of a thin flat layer. If that surface is exposed for any extended length of time (as would be the case with slow rates of accumulation) then there would be lots of opportunity for disruptions to disturb the flat layer. There could be burrows, ripples, some parts washed away, or churned up by storms. The longer the flat layer sits exposed, the less likely it will remain flat. However if the time interval between the one layer arriving and the next one coming down on the first one is short, then the surface of the bottom layer remains flat until it is buried. You can look at pictures of deep cliffs of rock such as the Grand Canyon or Dinosaur Provincial Park, and you can see that each layer is thin and flat. This tells us that each layer followed the previous one very quickly. The whole rock column came down very fast.

Large Areas Covered by One Rock Deposit

We can tell by the large land surfaces covered by a given kind of sediment that the water body carrying them covered a huge amount of territory. Sometimes scientists suggest that the depositing event took place from a beach or river (or its nearby flood plain). But these explanations don’t work when thousands of square km of sediment were involved. For example, some of the flat layers of rock in Grande Canyon extend for over 100,000 square miles (260,000 square kilometres). No local watery event could extend so far. This had to be a much more widespread and catastrophic flood and not a local event. See Footnote.

Sudden Appearance  

The oldest sedimentary layers are at the bottom of a deep collection of rocks, closest to the bedrock. We expect to follow the past history of each kind of fossilized creature as we work our way up from lowest rock layers to higher layers. Thus, the earliest occurring creatures should be low down in the rocks and those having lived more recently will be higher up. If evolution really took place, if organisms gradually changed into other organisms over long periods of time, then we should be able to follow those changes as we compare creatures in lower rock layers with the specimens higher up.  But that is not what we find. We find complicated creatures that appear suddenly in the rock layers. There is nothing like them in lower rocks. There should be simpler evolutionary models if evolution really happened. There are no such ancestors however. The rock record should be full of ancestors of all sorts of creatures if evolution were true.

For example, Anomalocaris is an extinct top predator that lived in shallow sea water communities. It grew up to 1 m long, swam with flaps and had very complicated eyes and brains. This creature is part of the lowest lying community of animals found in the fossil record. There is no hint of lower occurring ancestors for Anomalocaris or any of the creatures found along with this fearsome fossil.  The first such fossil community found in the world was the Burgess Shale, found in the mountains near Golden B.C. (not too far from Alberta!) Similar creatures have now been found around the world in similar deposits. A major display of the creatures of these rocks can be found in the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

Another example is the duckbill dinosaurs. These are the most numerous and varied group of large bodied plant eating dinosaurs in mid-level rock layers worldwide. They appear around the world in the same level of rocks, but there is no hint of similar but simpler creatures in lower lying rocks. This group demonstrates wonderful and unique design in teeth, with sudden appearance and richness and variety of head dress designs from undecorated to solid crests and hollow crests. A good example of a duckbill dinosaur is Edmontosaurus, one of the largest and most famous duckbill dinosaurs.

Another example is ichthyosaurs, large air breathing sea dwelling reptiles. These creatures are found all over the world. Their backbones were unusual in shape, specially suited to great body flexibility. These creatures had the largest eye size of any creature compared to their body size and one kind exhibited the largest actual eyes of any creature at 26 cm across (about 10 inches). Their fossils appear suddenly, fully designed, with no hint of ancestors.

Every major kind of creature has its own similar story of sudden appearance. This should not be the case if they had evolved from similar simpler ancestral forms.

Every aspect of the rock record demonstrates that the sedimentary rocks were formed very quickly. The features of the rocks that we observe, in fact support a conclusion of fast processes and a short earth history. The steep rock layers came quickly from a terrible flood.

Footnote: In 2018 Dr. Tim Clarey of ICR and Davis Werner presented a technical paper to the International Conference on Creationism. The paper was entitled Global Stratigraphy and the Fossil Record Validate a Flood Origin for the Geologic Column. Proceedings of the ICC vol. 8 pp. 327-350.

Dr. Clarey demonstrated that rocks composed of unique minerals can be traced across vast regions and even from one continent to another. The correlation of these large stacked rock layers with unique compositions such as salt and chert layers, confirm that these layers were deposited at the same time around the world. In other words, a global flood could, and did, produce globally extensive stacked lithologic [rock] units on an intercontinental scale.

For appropriate slides (#37-56 and 71) in a PowerPoint that accompanied the above presentation see below. Diagrams of similar rocks on various continents are featured in these slides.

Google: Global Stratigraphy and the Fossil Record Validate a flood.

Click on Semantics Scholar choice of title.Click on View via Publisher.

At bottom there is a link to a PowerPoint presentation called “Clarey_Geologic_Column.pdf (8304 kB)
PowerPoint. Click on that and view slide 37-56 and slide 71.