NH Notes: Dino Doo-Doo (Coprolites) and the Genesis Flood

A dinosaur coprolite.  This large dropping was from a carnivore as evidenced by the small bones embedded in the feces. Image credit: Wikipedia
A dinosaur coprolite. This large dropping was from a carnivore as evidenced by the small bones embedded in the feces. Image credit: Wikipedia

Yep, dinosaurs are known by more than just their bones.  I have been reading quite a few research papers about dinosaurs as I prepare to write a long set of posts about Dr. Schweitzer and the significance of soft-tissue preservation in dinosaur bones.  During this reading I got distracted by a discussion about dinosaur coprolites which is the more polite word for fossil dung, droppings, doo-doo etc….  it suddenly hit me, wow, fossil dung is far more common than I thought and I already thought it was quite common! I have written about dinosaur nests (Fossil eggs, nests, floods and stressed pregnant dinosaurs) and other somewhat ephemeral features which are preserved in the fossil record and how they present a serious challenge to the YEC global flood hypothesis but it struck me that this mass of dino-droppings is a conceptually simpler and even more challenging problem.   I can’t find any estimates of just how many poops may be preserved in the fossil record but it is quite clear that just considering dinosaurs, there are far far more dinosaur coprolites in the geological column than there are dinosaur bones themselves.  There must be millions of tons of dinosaur feces in the fossil record. I would venture to guess that the mass of coprolites far exceeds the mass of the dinosaurs represented by the bones that are preserved.

Many dinosaur and reptile coprolites are prized as a result of the permineralization process that results in these beautiful colors.
Many dinosaur and reptile coprolites are prized as a result of the permineralization process that results in these beautiful colors.

So what does this have to do with the Genesis Flood?  Just ask yourself, where did all these dinosaur droppings come from?  These droppings are found in the middle of the geological column. This part of the geological column is said to have been from the latter stages of a global flood 4000 years ago according to young earth creationists.   As we have seen before, to explain why there are dinosaur nests and footprints in this part of the geological record, YECs, claim that dinosaurs were able to survive the first stages of the global flood and thus were running around for their life at this time, finally succumbed to the watery abyss as fatigue and the last stages of the flood set in.  As strained as that explanation may seem consider that in these same layers of rock there appears to be far more dinosaur droppings than there is dinosaur mass.  Any dinosaur that has been running around for 20-100 days escaping the global flood waters will have had no time to eat (there wouldn’t be anything to eat in the barren landscape anyway) and would have voided their intestines in the first days of the flood. Their feces should be found in the lower part of the geological column in places that ran from.  Surely, no one would believe that dino droppings could be picked up by a flood, mixed with vast amounts of sediments and then deposited later on.  Even those dinosaurs that still managed to have some material left to void after a month would have voided it in a land of chaos that would soon be covered by fast moving waters.  How would these be preserved in a global chaotic event?   Where I have seen creationists mention coprolites in the fossil record they talk about them in the context of evidence of meat eating dinosaurs existing before the flood rather than explaining their existence at all. It seems that they either are oblivious to the obvious ramifications of their presence or they simply are ignoring them.

But dino droppings are just a drop in the bucket in terms of the feces preserved in the geological column.  Bird feces in the forms of massive layers of preserved guano and fish fecal pellets are found in massive numbers.  To provide just one example, the Green River Formation in the western US is famous for its fossilized fish.  Creationists have questioned how they could be preserved so well in the millions of layers of sediments.  Leaving that question aside here,  these layers also contain countless fish coprolites as well.  Rarely are these acknowledged in the creationist literature but Daniel Woolley in 2001 did address the topic in a creationist journal.  There he acknowledged that that fish coprolites in densities of 100 to 350 per square meter and up to 2.5 cm long are found in many parts of the Green River formation. These coprolites are found in conjunction with layers in which fish are also found.   Fish coprolites in this are surely must number in the many billions and be represented at least 1000 to one over the presence of fish.  If, as Woolley suggests, that coprolites in these rocks represent the voided contents of fish caught in a global flood then here again we have far more poop than one would expect to find coming from a fish in such a short period of time.

Addendum:  I just read a further story of interest this morning.  Fossilized dung balls formed by the action of dung beetles have been found in South America.  Dung beetles take dung from large dung piles of herbivores like elephants and roll pieces up into balls, roll them away and bury them for safe keeping like a squirrel buries nuts.   The presence of these in the fossil record is yet another evidence that where they are preserved represents a place were the normal ecology of the world was working rather than a large global catastrophe.  For dung balls to be found in burrows, now only did there have to be fresh dung around but it had to be there long enough for beetles to do their work.  Again, in the young earth creationists view these beetles were living near the end of a global catastrophe after 20,000 feet of sediments had suddenly been laid down and yet they were still alive managed to find fresh dung and had time to roll it up and bury it before being covered by the next giant wave of water that would then cover them with many new layers of sediments that would become rock.   And yet I am told over and over by that the global flood is the best explanation for fossils and the origins of geological phenomena.


Daniel Woolley, TJ 15(1): 2001. Fish preservation, fish coprolites and the Green River Formation. 


12 thoughts on “NH Notes: Dino Doo-Doo (Coprolites) and the Genesis Flood

  1. The explanation is simple. There was catastrophic defecation on a global scale. Also, dung beetles from the pre-flood period were much stronger and could roll dung much faster than modern dung beetles. You just have to take off your uniformitarian blinders.


    1. Funny you should mention that obvious explanation. Woolley used just such an explanation for fish feces in the Green River formation. He suggests “intestinal cleaning due to the traumatic death of the fish” to explain the presence of these dense fish coprolites. Those must have some very constipated fish prior to the Flood to produce that much material.


    2. catastrophic defecation – I burst out laughing, and had to explain to my wife… love it, the post and the comment. I’m subscribing!


  2. I did a recent search via the Google Images search page using the following two words as my search criteria.

    dinosaur coprolite

    While reviewing the images displayed by this search, I noted that a number of the coprolites shown appeared to be at least partly desiccated prior to being fossilized. In other words, the outer surface of these coprolites had dried & contracted, resulting in cracks on the surface of the coprolite. For that to happen, one would think that those coprolites were exposed to direct sunlight (or at least been in a dry / arid environment) for several hours (if not several days), prior to being buried & fossilized. If that was the case, then that observation would be hard to reconcile with a Young Earth Creation (YEC) viewpoint in which all of Planet Earth was awash in water for a period of months during Noah’s Flood.

    Since it’s not always easy to confirm the veracity of the images that Google Images brings up (i.e. were those photos really showing coprolites derived from the Jurassic or Cretaceous sedimentary rock layers in which dinosaurs were the dominant land animals), my questions for you (Natural Historian) are as follows.

    1. While you were doing your review of coprolites in the scientific (peer-reviewed) literature, were you able to find images of potential dinosaur-derived coprolites that showed obvious signs of drying prior to fossilization that were confirmed to be from either Jurassic or Cretaceous rock strata?

    2. If yes to the above, have you known of any YEC scientist who, in your opinion, was able to reasonably explain said desiccation in light of the YEC global Flood model?

    Quite frankly, this Flood that covered all of Planet Earth in the YEC Flood model would`ve resulted in a very chaotic planet awash in water (not to mention an atmosphere that was likely almost saturated humidity-wise… not the sort of environment conducive to the drying of dino doo-doo). Dinosaurs would’ve been constantly running / swimming (or crawling onto floating mats of vegetation) for a period of time lasting for weeks (or even months) to preserve their lives until they eventually met their demise by drowning during the formation of the Jurassic & Cretaceous rock layers that many YEC scientists claim were formed during the latter stages of Noah’s Flood.

    Joel, I look forward to your observations on this issue.


    1. I just realized that I never responded to your comment. I don’t much about the specific knowledge of the conditions of the coprolites prior to fossilization. It would make sense that many could show signs up having dried prior to their burial and preservation. I will definitely keep an eye out for this type of evidence in the future because it would certainly strengthen the point that some period of exposure to dry conditions was necessary prior to preservation. I just looked into the paper about the Triassic latrine that I wrote about last year (https://thenaturalhistorian.com/2013/12/10/piles-of-fossil-poo-past-behavior-coprolites/) and in the description of the coprolites they specifically refer to desiccation cracks as evidence of their drying and partially eroding prior to being preserved. http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/131128/srep03348/full/srep03348.html. As far as I know no YEC has suggested how that could occur in them middle of the flood. In the case of dinosaur nests that seem to be buried by rapidly moving sand dunes YEC don’t want those to be sand dunes but rather a sand slurry from the next tsunami type wave in the midst of a global flood.


      1. This is the crappiest article you’ve ever written, yet one of the best. Yes, coprolites very often show dessication cracks and other evidence that they baked and hardened somewhat before being buried (and probably often by windblown sediments), which hardly would be expected during a global Flood, even if the animals managed to tread water for months without any fresh water or food. As you say, early on the animals would have completely crapped out, literally and figuratively. The widespread occurrence (both geologically and geographically) of millions of coprolites, as well as fossil tracks, nests, eggs, hives, burrows, and countless other trace fossils which require dry or calm conditions flies directly in the face of Flood geology, and literally leaves no place to put the Flood. http://paleo.cc/ce/tracefos.htm YEC attempts to deal with this have been weak at best.


  3. Mr. Duff: i have been unable to determine if you believe the flood actually took place, and if so, when?


    1. That is certainly a fair question given my emphasis on why the young-earth creationism is at odds with science and Scripture. As you might expect, I have come to realize that there is no compelling reason to believe the Noahic Flood was a literal watery flood that covered the entire globe. The genre of the text, the use of hyperbolic language and the lack of any physical evidence of such a flood don’t require a global flood. Was there a flood? Yes, Moses recounts a flood to make a theological point. His audience may or may not have been aware of said flood but would not have understood the description in such literal terms even while they would have accepted that it was based on a real event.
      I also tend to view the Flood event from a coventental theological viewpoint. By that I mean that “all” is speaking of God’s chosen people at the time, the descendants of Seth. Cain’s descendants were outside Eden and effectively in the wasteland which is already a symbol of destruction/disorder. There was no need to destroy them with a flood. But the Sethites turned from God and Noah alone was faithful. Just like when God allowed the Israelites to die before entering the land. The other peoples of the world are not his immediate concern hence the need for a literal global flood was not necessary. Yet the salvific message of Noah still has universal implications because the covenant has been brought to the gentiles and so members of all nations can be grafted into his own.
      So much more could be said. Sailhamer’s “The Meaning of the Pentateuch”, Tremper Longmans book “How to Read Genesis” and even G.K. Beals book “A New Testemant Biblical Theology” provides a great overview of the OT from a Biblical Theology perspective which I have always appreciated.
      Below is a link to one part of a series by Longman which I think is useful even if I don’t agree with him on all points.
      I hope this helps. I will freely admit that I don’t have a theological or scientific construct that adequately answers every question that I have about the Noahic account but I would be shocked if anyone truly believes they have a systematic theology that explains every piece of biblical and scientific data.

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