NH Notes: A Fossil Scallop from Calvert Cliffs, MD

A colleague has a fossil scallop in his office that he collected while teaching a field course on Chesapeake Bay biology.  He pulled this scallop from the cliff wall at Calvert Cliffs near Calvert, Maryland. It is particularly impressive not only for its size (more than 5 inches in diameter) but also for its condition.  But what caught my eye was what was attached to it (see below).   This fossil scallop is thought to be not much more than 10 million years old, so is a youngster in geological terms.  As such it demonstrates some features of “younger” fossils that are typically not appreciated.   Let me share some pictures I took of this fossil and then provide the geological context for where it was found.

Large scallop collected by a friend from Calvert Cliffs in Maryland.  Image: Joel Duff
Large scallop collected by a friend from Calvert Cliffs in Maryland. Image: Joel Duff

This was the side facing down.  The top side is more interesting as shown in the images below.

Top side of the same scallop as above showing several large barnacles attached.
Top side of the same scallop as above showing several large barnacles attached.

Here is a picture of the topside of the scallop.  Two things to notice here: First, there are several large barnacles that are attached to the top of the shell.  Several of them were damaged during the extraction of the shell from the cliff wall.  The second is an orange discoloration on the top part of the shell and one of the barnacles.  This represents the portion of the shell that was exposed on the cliff face for some time and became stained from chemicals that leached out from the rocks and soil in the layers above and ran down over the face of the cliff.

Calvert Cliffs along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. http://camano130.blogspot.com/2010/05/family-and-friends-through-maryland.html
Calvert Cliffs along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. http://camano130.blogspot.com/2010/05/family-and-friends-through-maryland.html

Just what are the Calvert Cliffs?  They are a long set of cliffs along the western shores of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland south of Washington D.C..   As the bay erodes the cliff wall new fossils are continually revealed and collectors come to find shells, sharks teeth, corals and even the occasional whale bone.   Fossils densities can be very high with many billions of shells certainly preserved here.

Are these really fossils?

Looking at these pictures you may wonder if this is really a fossil or just a shell buried in some sand hundreds or thousands of years ago.   The term “fossil” is not easy to define as the process of becoming a fossil is not made of discrete steps but rather is a gradual process.  The shells here retain much of their original molecules rather than having been replaced by minerals.  So they are not “rock” in the sense of many older fossils.  Nevertheless they are best thought of as fossils because they are imbedded in rock and their chemistry is altered. These are not like shells that you would find on the beach or even shells that are thousands of years old that you could dig out of an old beach in Florida for example.  This fossil scallop is very heavy as it has been at least partly mineralized.

barnacle-scallop-side1000pxA shot of the base of the scallop showing just how well preserved this scallop is and how the barnacles are attached to it.

scallop-closeup-ridges-2000pxThe detail in preservation is really amazing

scallop-calvert-cliffs-closeup-ridgesThis is a close-up of the ridges of the scallop showing the mineralized surface.

Close-up of the ridges of the fossil scallop
Close-up of the ridges of the fossil scallop
Shells in the cliff wall at Calvert Cliffs along the western shore in Maryland. This and many other images of shells from this location can be found here: http://home.comcast.net/~rdchdwck/fossils/cenozoic/calvert_cliffs.htm
Shells in the cliff wall at Calvert Cliffs along the western shore in Maryland. This and many other images of shells from this location can be found HERE

Where did all these shells come from?

Why are there many meters thick layers of rock embedded with billions of shells and sharks teeth found at this location and how old are there?  Look at the picture to the right.  Shells are stacked on top of each other many meters high.  In many locations the shells are mostly broken, show signs of predation like bore holes and are covered with barnacles.  Geologists who have studied this region believe that this entire area was covered by a shallow sea when the Earth was warmer and the ice caps were melted.  At that time shells would have accumulated on the sea floor and especially near shorelines.  Erosion of the Appalachian mountains would have continued to introduce new sediments into the sea covering the shells and allowing for their preservation.  Shells are thought to have accumulated at this location for hundreds of thousands of years.  Eventually the Earth cooled and the ice caps reformed lowering the ocean surface by hundreds of feet.  Erosion via rivers then cut through what was once the ocean bottom.  Today the Calvert Cliffs are one place we are able to see the remains of these layers of sediments now turned to a soft form of sandstone rock  (sandstone is like a fossil, it forms through a gradual process of cementation and this sandstone isn’t well cemented so easily broken and worn).

Aproximate area covered by shallow ocean in the past.  This embayment would have been very shallow.  Redrawn by Sandy Rodgers from figures in Clark et al. 2004
Approximate area covered by shallow ocean in the past. This embayment would have been very shallow. Redrawn by Sandy Rodgers from figures in Clark et al. 2004

Creationist’s Geology Challenged Again

I’ve said that geologist believe that the rock layers of the Calvert Cliffs are 8 to 20 million years. Obviously young earth creationists (YECs) can’t accept those dates.  Georgia Purdom, staff scientist for Answers in Genesis, has questioned the age of this formation by questioning the validity of radiometric dating. But she and others YECs completely miss the forest for the trees.  Radiometric dating is just a red herring here.   They need to deal with the actual fossils and what those fossils are telling us about their past.

To compress all the geological formations of the Earth into a few thousand years requires some extraordinary events.  YECs think they have that extraordinary event in Noah’s Flood but does that really explain a formation like the Calvert Cliffs?  Not really.   There are 20,000 feet of fossil-bearing sediments below these cliffs.  Are we to believe that this large scallop with its barnacles survived the turbulence of a global flood only to be deposited at the very top of the geological column without so much as a scratch?  This is not reasonable. In fact, even YECs  who look at the geological context and the condition and types of fossils here would likely conclude they are not the result of a global flood.   Rather would likely appeal to some sort of post-flood events but that would put their origins sometime less than 4500 years ago!  Even so these shells do not appear to be laid down by any large event but by natural everyday processes of a shallow seabed.

Clearly this area of Maryland was covered by a sea and YECs might be tempted to accept this as well but this causes a problem. They have been promoting the theory that there was a global ice age right after the global flood. If this was the case then the ocean levels would have been hundreds of feet lower rather than higher.  There is no place in their theories for the creation of this particular layer of fossils.  These fossils form the remains of organisms that are clearly all from a particular ecological setting. That setting is one of a shallow and very warm ocean that suggests a time when the Earth was much warmer. A warm Earth is completely consistent with the ocean being hundreds of feet higher at this location at the time.   The fossils are all of organisms that are considered modern rather than long extinct things. All of these observations about the Calvert Cliffs fossils are completely consistent with the millions of years old estimated dates of the rock.

So where does this scallop fit into the YEC view? I have no idea and I don’t think they do either.  They will simply avoid the specifics and point to possible issues with radiometric dating as if casting doubt on a date will prevent all other questions.

16 thoughts on “NH Notes: A Fossil Scallop from Calvert Cliffs, MD

  1. Another historic factor you didn’t mention was the crater in the area, which I presume underlies all this sediment? Does the black line in the map drawing above roughly correspond to its location?


    1. I was thinking of that when I included that figure but decided that it would take too much explaining. The crater is actually a bit south of this point but the whole area was definitely effected by it. Snelling at AIG acknowledges that this crater is definitely caused by a meteorite and thinks it happened in the last days of Noah’s flood or even later. This would then place the origin of these layers that make up these cliffs as being later (eg. less than 4500 years). So when was this area covered by a sea after Noah’s flood, I have no idea. Makes no sense but that is what happens when they make up theories to fit one piece of data without considering other data.


        1. Yeah, because several impact craters are right in the middle of the geological column they have been compelled to include these events as happening during the flood year. I guess is shows that some evidence (like impacts) are SO obvious that even the YECs can’t avoid the implications and must acknowledge their existence. Funny how they pick and choose what evidence they accept and which they just outright deny.


            1. Yes, I saw that and read it. Snelling really has to work hard in there to only present specific data that he can interpret. He pretty much stays away from Mars which we have a lot of data from which he could use to test his ideas.


            2. Virginia, thanks for the link to AIG’s view of craters. In it Danny Faulkner argues that most solar system cratering took place on the 4th Day of Creation To me, it only show how far YECs will go in trying to dismiss overwhelming evidence against their view. Indeed, the idea that the Earth experienced the same kind of massive cratering that Mars and the moon experienced (witnessed by millions of craters) during one day of the Creation Week only a few thousand years ago is sheer lunacy (pun intended). Indeed, how would it make any sense for God, in the midst of Creating a supposedly ideal Garden of Eden, simultaneously subject the Earth to massive cosmic bombardment, (or allow it) which would have left the Garden and rest of the Earth a devastated wasteland. Ineed, the destruction would have been so massive it would make the “fire and brimstone” picture of Dante’s picture of Hell look mild by comparison. It also presents a direct contradiction to God’s declaring the Creation “very good.” Faulker grasps at straws in trying to deal with this problem, arguing that “very good” might have been used in only a moral and not physical sense – even though this directly contradicts what AIG and other YECs have been saying for decades. Funny how YECs insist on reading Genesis in the most “straightforward” (by which they mean literal) way when it suits them, but when it doesn’t they have no problem resorting to the most far-fetched interpretations of both the Bible and physical evidence. Of course, other attempts by YECs to cram all impacts within the Flood year fare no better. The bottom line is, the totality of crater evidence simply cannot fit into a YEC framework, and alone falsifies it. I wrote an essay on this here: http://paleo.cc/ce/craters.htm


              1. I should clarify that in his 2014 article on Craters, Faulkner not only argues that massive cratering could be consistent with a “very good” Creation, but also that the massive bombardment all other bodies in our solar system clearly experienced may not have taken place on the Earth due to God’s direction or supernatural protection. This entails the same major problems as ICRs appeal to ad-hoc miracles to dismiss all the radioactive evidence in the Earth pointing to it’s great age. First, it undermines YECs’ claims that YECism is better than conventional science at explaining scientific evidence. Second, if one appeals to ad-hoc miracles any time compelling evidence contradicts one’s view, then the view can’t be falsified, and is inherently unscientific. Third, Faulkner ignores the scientific evidence that makes even the appeal to miraculous protection untenable. That’s because numerous impacts (some very large–such as the one at the K-Pg boundary) are ecorded in the geologic record, and alone present huge problems for YECism (not even counting ones undiscovered due to their being buried or eroded away), since there is no plausible way to cram them all into a literal Creation Week or even a few thousand years, and still allow human survival.

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  2. If Jesus could turn new wine “un-aged wine” into good wine… “Aged Wine” then why could God not have created an new universe as if it was aged? Darwin’s theory has been debunked as current magnification of Cells show they were constructed of “Parts” and as we all know parts can not assemble themselves… Just pointing out that no one really knows all the answers. Science and Faith do have a common thread as they both seek the truth and both can be blinded by not remaining open to new science and new Revelations… after all no Science is 100% or it is not truce Science that seeks the truth.


    1. Hi, thanks for the comments. If He did then his “aged” universe has no sign of global flood and was made to appear as if there weren’t one. This won’t help solve any problems but may create a lot of new ones. I suppose no one really knows the answers but God didn’t create a nonsensical world in which nothing could be known but he created things with structure and order. I can’t prove you exist. This message I am responding to might have been random electrical signal that happened for form words. But that wouldn’t be a reasonable thing to believe but I certainly can be 100% sure that it isn’t. However, I won’t lose too much sleep worrying if the comment is from a real person or not.Its late and time for bed:-)


    2. Ray, are you trying to revive the centuries-old idea that God could have placed fossils directly into the rocks, or created fossil-bearing rock formations directly? While one can’t disprove the idea, even most YECs don’t argue such things, as they know that it would suggest God to be a deceiver–creating things in ways that suggested a history (and even complicated history) that never existed. You can hardly compare this to a singular event like Jesus turning water into wine, and many skeptics would point out that there is no way to verify that account in the first place. The point is, once you start taking the “appearance of age” arguments to their logical extensions, you not only end up with serious scientific problems, but major theological ones as well.


  3. Since most YECs interpret this formation as being “post Flood” this also presents another problem for them, since they often claim that large numbers of fossils deposited together can only be explained by Noah’s Flood. They can’t have it both ways. One can make the same point about the Green River Formation (Eocene) that some YECs claim must have been laid down during Noan’s Flood, and other YECs say is post Flood.


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