Trillions of Stone Age Artifacts: A Young Earth Anthropology Paradox

Trillions of stone artifacts cover the surface of the African continent. The product of the manufacturing of stone tools by hunters and gathers over long periods of time, these stone artifacts literally carpet the ground in some places in Egypt and Libya.

Just how much Stone-Age produced rock could be strewn across the African continent?

Trillions and trillions of artifacts!

The trillion isn’t a typo. That number sounds absolutely fantastic, doesn’t it?  Let’s take a look at how these numbers were derived.

The results of a study just published (see references below) shows how incredibly dense stone artifacts can be in some places in Africa.   Working in a remote location in southern Libya, researchers took surveys from hundreds of one or two-meter square plots. From the tens of thousands of artifacts found in them, they estimated a minimum density of 250,000 stone artifacts per square kilometer is present in this portion of Libya.

And this only included what was visible on the surface.

Figure C of the supplemental material from ????? PLOSone

Figure C of the supplemental material from the paper by Foley RA, Lahr MM (2015) Lithic Landscapes: Early Human Impact from Stone Tool Production on the Central Saharan Environment. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0116482. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116482. This shows the rocky landscape of southern Libya and the artifacts that are found in high abundance.

The researchers surveyed other published estimates of stone-tool densities in other areas of Africa. For example, some parts of the Nubian Desert average 12 million artifacts per square kilometer.  They also calculate expected stone production given certain assumptions about population size and stone tool use over time.  Overall, the researchers estimate that stone tool production across the entire continent of Africa has resulted in an average of 500,000 to 5,000,000 artifacts per square kilometer.

Africa is roughly 30 million square kilometers in area, so that would put the total number of stone artifacts between 15 and 150 trillion.  Yes, that is trillion with a T—an astounding number.

Now these numbers may be a bit high but even if the authors overestimated the number of rocks several fold, it is clear that the number of rocks that have been manipulated by human hands that lie on or just under the surface of the African landscape is enormous.

A few months ago I wrote (How Rare Are Stone Age Artifacts? A Visit to a Stone Tool-Making Factory in South America) about a dense stone artifact site in South Africa and stated that in just a few acres there had to be billions upon billions of artifacts. As well, in South America alone, there must be hundreds of billions of artifacts.

But this new analysis shows that my estimates were far too conservative.

Another Nail in the Young-Earth Coffin

If young-earth creationism (YEC) weren’t already mortally wounded by the abundant evidence from the observed world and careful exegesis of Scripture itself, these trillions of stone artifacts from the Stone-Age tool industry would certainly be the dagger to the heart.

I will save a full-blown analysis of the damage to the young-earth hypothesis that this finding causes for another time. For now, let’s just hit the highlights.

The standard young-earth view holds that the “stone age” was a short period of just a few hundred years in length (500 being the absolute max). This period spans from the time when families spread out from Babel 4250 years ago to about the time of Abraham.

The Answers in Genesis conception of when the ice age occurred after the Flood. Source: AIG page

The Answers in Genesis conception of when the ice age occurred after the Flood.  They place the Stone Age during this time. Source: AIG page

Ice-age timeline showing also where stone-tool making is expected in the young earth timeline. This is a typical timeline presented by Answers in Genesis and ICR.

Let us be generous and give the YEC hypothesis 500 years for the Stone Age.  I have done a few back-of-the-envelope calculations to see how the young-earth hypothesis fits the data about the stone-age tools in Africa, as presented above.

Here are my assumptions:

  • Time span of 500 years.
  • 25 years per generation (eg. the replacement rate of population)
  • 10,000 artifacts produced by each person (male and female) in their lifetime
  • Average population size during this time: 100,000 hunters and gatherers/nomads

Now for the calculation: 20 generations x 100,000 people gives us 2 million people who produced stone tools.  If each person produced 10,000 artifacts during his or her lifetime then this would result in 20 billion total artifacts, or 40 million artifacts generated per year.

Now, 20 billion artifacts in 500 years is a lot, but it is definitely nowhere close to the 15 to 150 trillion artifacts estimated to be in Africa alone.  At 40 million artifacts per year, it would take a population of 100,000 individuals 100,000 years to produce just 4 trillion artifacts.

Modern science has determined that the Stone Age lasted as long as 2 million years. Assuming relatively small populations during that time span, this is about the time needed to produce the quantity of artifacts that we observe and estimate today.

Yet here is what the YECs assume. A small band of people left Babel in 2250, migrated to Africa, forgot all the technology they once had in Mesopotamia, learned how to fashion rock into tools (this is a technology itself), extracted 40 million pyramid’s worth of rock from all over Africa, and fashioned that rock into countless numbers of stone tools in 150-500 years?   Some YEC will doubtless claim that a group of 1000 people leaving Babel could have grown into a population of millions within 500 years and thus they could have produced several hundred billion artifacts.  This still doesn’t get one to the observed numbers and that population growth would be unrealistic given the very difficult life of a nomad especially competing with lions and hyenas with only stone tools.

And, remember, we are not even considering the billions of stone tools that exist outside of African in Asian and the Americas. Presumably people made their way to the Americas not long (10s of years maybe in the YEC timeline) after they came to Africa and yet the volume of stone tools in North America is a tiny fraction of what is observed in Africa.

Anyway, this group of migrants from Babel would have been small in number at first, and so it is not even reasonable to think they would have grown to 100,000 individuals by 2000 BC when they settled into an agricultural lifestyle and no longer needed to fashion stone implements.  My estimate of 20 billion artifacts is incredibly generous, and yet it leaves the YECs exceedingly short of explaining the vast numbers of stone tools that are so easily observed.

The sheer abundance of stone tools in Africa is one of most devastating pieces of evidence against the young-earth hypothesis that I have encountered.  Until I started looking at reports of stone artifacts in Africa I had no idea that stone tools were so ubiquitous.  We see them in museums and tend to think they are very rare.

Young Earth Creationists believe that their interpretation of the Bible provides the best way to understand observations from geology, biology, astronomy and anthropology.  However, these stone artifacts provide yet another example of where the YEC model for interpreting what we observe in the world around has provided a woefully inadequate explanatory framework. No doubt, trillions of artifacts raises difficult questions for all Christians as they seek to understand the anthropological message in scriptures.  Young earth creationism seeks to provide a safe haven for escaping those questions but the safety it seeks for its followers is only an illusion which is why so many are apt to become disillusioned over time when they are confronted with the overwhelming evidence of their failed paradigm.   Reasons to Believe, BioLogos, and countless other organizations and Christian scholars have wrestled with data such as these artifacts and produced explanatory frameworks for understanding both the Biblical and physical evidence. These ideas continue to be tested today by scientists and theologians. That such explanations are even possible should be evidence in itself that the young earth viewpoint is inadequate.


General audience summary of the research with more pictures:

A creationists take on the Stone Age:

The research paper which I used as my source:

Foley RA, Lahr MM (2015) Lithic Landscapes: Early Human Impact from Stone Tool Production on the Central Saharan Environment. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0116482. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116482

A researcher is recording artifacts from a one meter square plot in the Libya Sahara desert.

A researcher is recording artifacts from a one meter square plot in the Libya Sahara desert.



  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.


  2. tim montzka says:

    How sure are we that the artifacts are not of some kind of natural origin?


    • Good question. There are many many studies that have been done in which scientists have recreated the actions of producing stone tools so they could study the lithic artifacts created by the process. These studies tell us about the types of percussion marks produced on rocks from directed strikes versus random strikes. There is of course a possibility that a rock rolling down a hill may strike another rock just right and produce a chip that could be interpreted as having come from intentional manufacturing process but even this I am sure has been tested. In these studies where lithics/artifacts are counted, they are using a conservative approach and counting only rocks that have been clearly manipulated intentionally. As I said in the article, these numbers here are probably underestimates of processed rock rather than overestimates.


  3. Reblogged this on Eat Your Brains Out; Exploring Science, Exposing Creationism and commented:
    If there really were lots of people, not just Noah’s family, and they really were spread out over Africa, and if they really were making tools from some 2.6 million years before present, and if they were profligate throwaways when it came to flint flakes, then a little arithmetic shows that there ought to be trillions (yes, millions of millions) of discarded tools all over Africa. And there are.

    Earlier, I blogged about time as interval at Siccar Point, and time as process where the lavas of the Giants Causeway were weathered between outflows. Now I can add time as the accumulation of junk. Time shallow by geological standards, but very deep indeed compared with all of human history, or with the imaginings of the author(s) of Genesis. And I don’t think even Ken Ham can talk his way out of this one.

    And this week sees the resolution of another paradox: the oldest tools known date to some 2.6 million years before present (Mybp), but the oldest clearly hominin remains were at 2.4 Mybp. So do we have to infer that australopithecines made tools? Not ow we don’t, since we now have a decidedly hominin jaw at 2.8 Mybp.


  4. Reblogged this on Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin.


  5. If you’re interested, there’s a massive site in western Queensland outside the town of Charleville. I’ve been to it, and its known to the family who owned the property (a huge sheep station) as simply “The Factory.” I don’t know how many kilometers it goes on for, but its is huge, and every square meter is littered with worked stones. i have one with me here in Brazil. It’s a prized possession. I’m also not sure if anyone in the family has ever told an anthropologist about it. Someone though should really study it. It’s quite astonishing.


  6. I had never considered the number of stone-age artifacts, and it never occurred to me how common they are. They must have drawn the attention of some curious people of antiquity. What are the first mention of them in Hellenistic literature? What was made of them by the scholars of Alexandria? Surely some Archimedes or Eratosthenes would have remarked on the vast number of them. What about the Renaissance? Any mention of them by Leonardo da Vinci?


    • Thanks for the comment. Those are very interesting questions.I wish I had an answer. Just a few miles outside the Nile Valley in southern Egypt is a region with one of the most dense accumulations of stone artifacts. One surely could not help but see clear examples of stone axes and possibly even spear points there just laying on the desert floor. It would be fascinating to know how early historians would have interpreted their presence. One would wonder if they thought that their presence pointed to a very different environment in the past given that where they artifacts are found today are very inhospitable places.


      • Perhaps they are remnants of war activity between feuding armies. Maybe there are other activities that would explain why so many of the same type of artifact would be found in one area. From one generation to the next, why would the new generation make a new common everyday tool which is pretty much identical to the old one lying on the ground? I would just pick up and use the one I found on the ground and re-use it. I little lye and water and no one would know the difference.


  7. I dont think your conclutions in this article follow from the source article. The calculation which gives the Giza pyramide equivalents is an estimate of how much artifacts ought to exist given certain asumptions regarding population density and the time period involved. The authors write that their mid-range calculation gives a result where the busiest quarry area on record would in fact be just above the continent-wide average in size. Also, all of these calculations are placed in the introduction. Results and discussion does not seem to add any direct support to them.

    “Spread evenly across Africa, these minimum and maximum models would yield a density of between 104 and 109, per km2. A very conservative—and unrealistic—estimate would be as low as an average of 10,000 artefacts per km2. If we exclude the upper and lower extremes, the models suggest an average density of between 106 and 107 per km2 (i.e., between one million and ten million artefacts per km2, which would be close to the highest observed density of the Nubian Desert (12 million per km2). ”

    Since the calculations are not based on the number of counted artifacts, a YEC could easily change the input numbers in the formula and get a low and easily manageble result. Your posts have given numerous nails to the YEC coffin, may it rest in peace. I am however unconvinced that this is one of them.


    • Hi Thomas, I’m glad you took the time to look at the article and check the calculations and my assumptions. I went back and forth on some of the numbers. I did find it strange that the authors produced estimations that they which were in the intro but they provided methods of how they did them in the methods section in the back of the article. For my 15 to 150 trillion I used their more “realistic” numbers for the average density per square km. Notice that that number is 0.5 to 5 million per km2 which is below their 1 to 10 million high estimates. The conflation of estimations based on population size and # artifacts produced and actual artifact counts used to estimate artifacts in a particular region makes the paper a bit difficult to explain. I hedged my wording here and there but as you say, a YEC may just wish to say that Gize numbers are based on estimation parameters with dubious assumptions. I think they assumptions are reasonable but that won’t help. I do think that they present enough comparative data from other sites in Africa to provide reason to believe that trillions of artifacts are present. I had planned a few months ago to write about the site in the Nubia desert. I may need to look at those numbers again and see if this paper fits the observations there. Thanks again for your observations.


      • What is most perplexing to me is that an average amount of artifacts expected to be found across an entire continent is in any way equal in size to the amount of artifacts found in the quarries where the tools were made. In the quarry, the stone is found and shaped. Each piece of superfluous stone knocked off becomes one counted artifact. Thus, inside the quarry, maybe tens to hundreds of artifacts as production debris per produced tool, outside the quarry I would expect to find one piece, ie the finished tool. Would anyone estimate the countrywide amount of wood chips based on a study of the local saw mill or carpentry shop? Maybe I have completely misunderstood the point.


        • Yes, I wondered that too but a number of articles I read a while back seemed to show that large rocks were quarried and then taken from the site and would have been flaked elsewhere. Source rock was then carried to the next location where more bits would be chipped off and used to fashion tools necessary. The majority of lithics then may not have been produced at the source.


      • The prehistoric version of just-in-time production. :)
        Still, a production chain is not necessarily the same as production everywhere.


    • I made a couple of edits to the article to reflect some of your comments. I have to admit I am still a bit perplexed by their .5 to 5 million/km2 estimate when their estimate of density of artifacts from southern Libya is 250,000 per km2 and they seem to be using that to lower they 1 to 10 million estimate of how many ought to be there. If I use the 250,000/km2 as an average then I get 7.5 trillion artifacts but this site is clearly a high density size though the 250K only considers the numbers on the surface. In South Africa there are sites that have meters deep of rocks that are a high proportion of lithic artifacts and thus are far more dense but very localized.


  8. I knew there had to be an enormous amount of lithic artifacts in Africa, but this exceeds anything I might have imagined. The sheer amount of artifacts makes the time YECs allot for the stone age sound truly laughable.


  9. This is a fantastic article, which really puts human prehistory into perspective in a tangible way. It’s surprisingly easy to lapse into the thinking that before major civilizations arose, there were only a few nomads scattered across all parts of the Earth, preserved periodically as a rare fossil. Obviously, it wasn’t the case—whether in the African desert or in Beringia—but the paucity of accessible data shapes our imagination.

    On a side note, I do feel bad for anthropologists in this field. There is an early human site about halfway between Las Vegas and Los Angeles (I got to visit the museum once). The dry climate has destroyed all bones and flesh, but scattered stone artifacts do exist. It is truly the most tedious process, however, picking out chipped rocks from non-chipped rocks and testing them against some rigorous criteria. There’s not a chance I could do it…


    • Thanks. Just imagine doing collections in southern Libya the past couple of years. Potentially very dangerous work though some of these locations are so remote that there is probably not much of chance of running into trouble in the field, its getting to the site that could be a problem.


  10. Lay man’s question here.. but what does this tell us, if anything, about the hominids that made these artifacts? Are there ample remains found in these areas to correlate with what looks like a mass production of tools over a long period of time?
    Thanks for your work Joel, I always enjoy reading it.


    • Hi Clay, Thanks. I’m not enough of an expert to know for sure but I do know from the literature I have read that there isn’t enough counts of objects made from enough locations to talk about volumes produced at different ages and by different presumed hominid species. What is evident is that in some locations there are changes in the tool production that can be noted where tools are found over many meters of sediments. In general it is hard to put a particular tool in a particular hominid species together unless the bones are found in just the same layer. These tools are found scattered and mixed as the land has been eroded revealing the pieces of rock that once lay in the soils that covered these places.


  11. (1) How would the author distinguish between stone tools of antiquity and more recently (previous 4,000 years) made ones (since there are even people today that use stone tools [though not in that area, of course])?

    (2) Why do the stone tools in the pictures apparently lack evidence of erosion? Would they not be severely eroded according to your timescale?

    Side note:

    “If young-earth creationism (YEC) weren’t already mortally wounded by the abundant evidence from the observed world and careful exegesis of Scripture itself…”

    I submit that is really unfair.

    I observe the world, the universe, read creationist and old-Earth literature, and listen to creation and old-Earth scientists themselves. I try to be as true and honest with Scripture as I can. To read this would imply that we YECs are impervious to and ignorant of both science and exegesis. I welcome both.

    But the idea that brute facts exist and that YECs are just ignoring them would be wholly unfair. Facts require an interpretation. And if you’re using an evolution-tinged lense to observe the world, everything will seem to support the idea of upward and onward progress of humanity.

    Just giving we YECs a tiny voice here…


    • Hi Joshua, these are really good questions and should be asked by anyone wishing to understand the meaning of these tools better. Regarding the stone tools found, there are many differences in stone tools such that a person that has studies ones from around the world could probably identify the continent and possibly the age of the sediment layer that it came from without being told where it came from. To the untrained eye, like mine, they all look very similar but there are stone tools that are considered very primitive and ones that are considered to be sophisticated and its more than just that some people were in a hurry and others took their time. The primitive tools are found in older sediments where sediments can be dated. In the case of the tools/artifacts found in Libya these are relatively advanced but are difficult to date other than indirectly by comparison to similar tools found in northern Africa that are in a geological context that allows dating. most of these tools are considered to be only 50 to 400 thousand years old if I remember right. Erosion isn’t much of a problem for the type of rock they are composed of. You also have to consider that the rocks that you see on the surface may only have been like this for 10,000 years or less. Must of this are was a more fertile plain and as hunters carried source rock around they chipped off pieces to makes implements. The chips got lost in the grass and eventually became embedded in soil. the full made tools would also be lost or discarded in the grass. As organism material built up over the years, rocks would be strewn in possibly meters depth of soils. When the area became drying all of this soil was blown away to form the sand dunes and the rocks that used to be suspended in the soil were left like the wheat being separated from the chaff. So today there are mounds of rocks and much of that rock is material that was worked by people over time. Just looking at it today it doesn’t’ make sense that there would be several feet of rock with lots of perfectly good looking tools just laying there but it is a product of the changing climate. So they have only been re-exposed to the elements more recently which is why they appear to be relatively young.
      Regarding my quote. Yes, I am being a bit more chippy there than I usually am. I suppose it is a product of Ham’s constantly calling myself and others compromisers and suggesting we are just pawns of our worldview and can’t see straight. Can’t help but respond in kind at times though I admit it is wrong to behave the same way.


      • Thank you for taking the time to reply. I can better understand why stone tools, ancient in your time-line, might still look relatively young.

        Although I am a YEC, good ol’ J.W. Wartick got me into this blog. :) I like the challenges it proposes, like those in this article. I’m anxious to get creationist responses to these. (Still waiting for a response to diatoms / diatomite problem your proposed.)

        J.W. Wartick also pointed out his frustration with he name-calling / labeling involved i. I hate it, even if it comes from the creationist side, where I think it definitely doesn’t belong.

        Side note:

        By the way, do you or anyone you know have scientific credentials and would any of you be willing to debate in a radio forum? Dr. Michael Brown, brilliant, big-hearted scholar from The Line of Fire Radio Show, has offered his program as a format for debate on the YEC / OEC issue.


  12. tjfolkerts says:

    Not that I support the YEC position, these numbers don’t make a lot of sense.

    * 2.1 x 10^14 = 210 trillion cubic meters of rock.
    * 30 million square km = 30 trillion square meters for African continent = 3 x 10^13 m^2.
    That would be 2.1E14 m^2 / 3E13 m^2 = 7 m^3 of artifact on every square meter = artifacts piled 7 m thick!

    * Area of pyramids = 230m x 230 m = 5.3E4 m^2
    * 84,000,000 pyramids = 8.4E7
    Total area = 5.3E4 * 8.4E7 = 4.4E12 m^2, which is more than 10% of the total area of Africa! Tearing down those pyramids and spreading them over about 10x the area would again leave a few meters of rubble EVERYWHERE ON THE CONTINENT.

    Somewhere there seems to be a mistake by a factor of 1,000 or 1,000,000.

    # of ARTIFACTS
    They are talking about densities on the order of 1 million artifacts in 1 km^2 = 1 million m^2, or 1 artifact per m^2. If tools were this dense, it seems people would just look around a minute and pick up an old tool. Maybe this included small chips of rock, but then we are talking small volumes of broken pieces.

    Also, are these areas representative of the continent as a whole, or were they studying areas where they expected lots of artifacts? Did people all over Africa use stone tools the same ways? (Seems doubtful given the varied cultures, biomes, and geology. The extrapolations to the whole continent (even without the mistakes made clear above), seems questionable at best.


    • Sorry about my late reply. I’ve been away for a week. Thanks for your number crunching. I’ll have to check numbers I reported again. i could have a mistake in there. I’m a bit disappointed in the sloppiness of the original paper from which I derived these numbers and so finding another error would not be too shocking. Even if mistaken by a 100 fold the numbers will be huge because there are sites where artifacts are extremely dense. Regarding picking up tools lying around, I expect that anyone would want to take advantage of prior tools and just sharpen them up (re-touching) but most tools would be lost in soils and because people moved around and did not want to carry large quantities of rocks the must have left many behind even purposely. The sties today look like they have thousands of tools lying practically on top of one another but that is because the soils have blown away concentrating the heavy tools and products of stone tool production. In the past they would have buried under grass. The density of tools in some parts of southern Egypt is so great there must have been stone artifacts buried in many 10s of feet of sediments which would itself represent very long time of deposition.


  13. This article subtly argues “your theory doesn’t work under my theory, so your theory must be wrong.” You see, the evolutionary assumptions are that the population was roughly static at only a few thousand individuals while the creationary assumptions are that the population was growing rapidly immediately after the Flood. Using conservative estimates, we can easily get 10,000+ men (not counting women) by the time of the Babel Incident, and sustaining the exponential population growth afterwards can easily get more than enough man-power to produce all those tools in a short amount of time. And these estimates assume that the previous generation dies off immediately after the next generation comes.

    Your assumptions definitely use evolutionary assumptions about population growth. And it assumes that people simply are not capable of mass-producing tools. You see, evolutionary assumptions are that man has been getting smarter over time. Creationists will argue that man has been getting dumber over time.


    • Thanks for your feedback. I think you will find that your model of population growth will not be supported by any evidence. Even the Bible does not account for large populations of nomadics nor of stone tools. Only agriculture can allow for even moderate populations to live in relatively high abundance. There are many reasonable assumptions about population growth, your modeling will require many highly speculative and evidence lacking assumptions. The young Earth model has done little but to claim they can explain stone tools.


      • I think you should make a post about the population dynamics of early humans. I hear a lot of arguments made about the human population in these debates but I never see in depth models presented. I would think that we have some fairly sophisticated population models now days but I haven’t looked into the literature yet to know.

        ” You see, evolutionary assumptions are that man has been getting smarter over time. Creationists will argue that man has been getting dumber over time.”

        That’s an interesting claim. I never heard of Creationists arguing that humans have become progressively dumber. What exactly is that based on?


      • It’s simply stupid to set a limit on how many artifacts each man could produce. These stones are not any problem for YEC. You make an assumption and claim it to be truth, but you were not there to observe it and therefore your predictions are only speculation and not fact.


        • Well, I think that a limit is not stupid. Surely the limit must be under infinity or even infinity minus one so there is a limit. But seriously, There are sound reasons for these assumptions. Not liking them doesn’t make them illogical or unreasonable. Just saying these stones are not a problem doesnt’ make them not a problem. It may mean you have not thought about them much. I don’t have to have been there to observe it to be able to reason about what happened. You and I have not seen a T-rex but I suspect you would find it reasonable to believe they short arms. Likewise, it is not unreasonable to believe that stone artifacts were formed by hominids and not by dolphins. I wasn’t there to see them made but I think that is a reasonable assumption. If you see marks on a bone that look like cut marks from a stone implement and chemical analysis of the cuts shows that there are bits of obsidian in the marks, and you find obsidian stone tools nearby it would not be stupid to reason that they were the cause of the marks even though I was not here to observe it. Really through this evidence I was there to observe it.


  14. Natural Historian, Thank you for your last reply. Every time I hear the “you were not there” argument I just want to say, “Yes, I was there and according to your own logic, you can’t say I wasn’t.” However, your argument actually makes sense.


  15. Mark Taunton says:

    (re-submitted to include the words I had quoted from the blog and was commenting on.)

    Natural Historian wrote:

    ‘Just how much Stone-Age produced rock could be strewn across the African continent?

    Imagine a volume of rock equivalent to 42-84 million Great Pyramids of Giza.

    The “million” isn’t a typo. That number sounds absolutely fantastic, doesn’t it?’

    Yes, it does, because it is. And it’s also very wrong.

    When I read this paper, I was immediately amazed at, and consequently highly dubious of, the claimed volumetric estimates. My own rough calculations showed that the total volume proposed implies about 3.5 or 7 metres depth of lithic fragments (for 42 or 84 million Giza pyramids, respectively) spread uniformly everywhere over the whole of Africa. This is clearly nonsense!

    So I was relieved to find the solitary comment by tjfolkerts (March 18), who came to the same conclusion. Like “tj”, I have also identified specific arithmetic errors in the article (there are several, not just one). This paper is clearly not good science, yet lots of people commenting here evidently take it on trust as being true. Why?

    And how did this get published in a peer-reviewed science journal? Why are people seemingly so willing to accept its findings, regardless of how fantastic they clearly are?

    I am baffled…


    • MT, your comments here and on the Facebook page where you’re discussing this show you can use a calculator, but also show you don’t understand the actual subject of this article and the PlosOne article.

      Firstly a mathematical error does not mean the PlosOne article is pseudoscience; the error to which you pointed is merely a calculation in an illustration of the evidence (in which calcuations are estimates based on assumptions, using “maximum figures”, not the figures actually represented in the data). It is not an argument on wihch the scientific case is based. On the other hand I can see plenty of pseudoscience in that Facebook forum, and you’re clearly responsible for some of it.

      Secondly I see you’ve chosen not to engage the actual evidence in the PlosOne article, or the actual case it makes. That’s typical of YECs; try and avoid the science, change the subject to something else, then pretend you’ve addressed the science. It’s just dishonest. No wonder other Christians complain.

      Thirdly you confuse lithic cores with débitage; this confusion finds its height in your statement “that figure would imply that the whole of Africa – approximately 30 million square km – should be covered entirely by these worked stone pieces”. No, it’s not talking about “worked stone pieces”, it’s talking about débitage, which are not “worked stone pieces”. If you’re going to try and criticize an article it’s best to at least uderstand the subject first. Please get someone who understands the subject, to read the article to you and explain it to you. Or at least ask them to help you undersand the difference between lithic cores and débitage.

      Fourthly regardless of what “Natural Historian” wrote, the original PlosOne article does not say that on the basis of the estimated “maximum figures” we should expect a volume of débitage equivalent to 42-84 million Great Pyramids “strewn across the African continent”. The original article says that such a volume “would result in a volume of débitage SUFFICIENT TO cover the surface of Africa to a depth of at least several meters”. It’s simply an attempt to depict accessibly the estimated volume of débitage. It certainly does not reflect what would happen in reality (I have actually criticized the writers for giving a misleading impression with this hypothetical).

      Over the course of time (especially over one million years, a length of time you can’t even comprehend), débitage does not simply build up on the surface of the land, but is continually buried under an increasing number of soil layers. You would know this if you had read the original PlosOne article (read the article), and you would know this if you had read the article on this page (read the article), and you would know this if you had read the article “How Rare Are Stone Age Artifacts? A Visit to a Stone Tool-Making Factory in South America” which is linked to on this page (read the article), which even shows convenient photos of densely packed débitage buried at up to 1.8m below the surface (; look at the photo), and of course you would know this if you knew anything about the subject on which you’re commenting. You would certainly know this if you knew anything whatsoever about archaeology.

      Since débitage can be found even as deep as twenty meters (or more), as well as scattered or piled on the surface of the land, it is completely irrational to assume (as you did), that we should expect one million years of débitage to actually be sitting piled on the surface of Africa (which you strangely seem to treat as if it is completely flat), regardless of its volume. Over the course of one million years, the débitage did not remain on the surface; most of it is buried at various depths, some of it is scattered densely or loosely across the surface and just below the surface, some of it is found in elevated terrain, and some débitage is piled up in high volume areas such as quarries.

      Consequently, débitage distribution over the total surface of Africa is uneven, and most débitage is BELOW the surface. In fact there are even photos showing this, in this article and in the article to which this article links, and in the original PlosOne article. How you could miss all this, I just don’t know. Please ask someone who actually understands this subject, to explain it to yon.

      For the record, I had already sent my criticisms to the authors (as anyone should who’s interested in correcting them), before I read this discussion. They include some criticisms not mentioned here.


      • Thanks for this very helpful response. Your description of volumes is much clearer than I was in my original post. The PlosONe article certainly isnt’ the best written but as you point out, it is far from pseudoscience. I want to dig back into the numbers and I as well want to correspond with the original authors but I’m not going to be able to do much for the next week. Joel


    • MT, while you’re here I would be interested in your anthropological conclusions on the pyrocentric behaviour patterns found in proximity to lithic artefacts at FxJj 20 Main. How do they fit into your YEC views?


  16. Mark Taunton says:

    Hi Joel,
    I am very pleased by your response. Your willingness to reconsider, and your desire to avoid using bad data to support a case, are both good and right, and to be commended to all.
    Thank you!


    • Hi Mark,
      I did take the post down until I could revise it some. I have removed the specific numbers that are a problem. While the estimates could but are not necessarily wrong there isn’t enough support for their pyramid comparison in terms of real numbers. But I have examined plenty of papers on this topic and there is no doubt that that stone artifacts are astoundingly commonplace in many places in Africa. This is a serous problem to the young earth timeline. Thanks for pointing out the potential errors in that original research. Science isn’t always perfect but there are many independent people working on artificts in many locations of Africa. Many of these include thousands of hours of observations that leave no doubt about the amazing density and diversity of stone artifacts. Joel


      • Dave Burke says:

        NH, it is worth noting that Mark Taunton is a Young Earth Creationist. He’s currently discussing the calculation error in this paper at a creationist Facebook group (here:, where credulous readers will interpret it as a mighty blow against evolution. Unless they make some effort to look for your blog (which they’ll need to do, since Mark has not provided a link to it) members of the group will be left with the impression that Mark was the first to notice this error and that the article has been removed as a direct consequence of his intervention.

        Mark is careful not to inform his readers that the error was already picked up by a commenter on your blog more than a month ago, that you responded to the pickup as soon as possible, and that he is therefore late to the party. Additionally, Mark has concealed from his readers the fact that you have followed up your original reply to him, explaining why the article will now remain on your blog.

        In private correspondence with me, Mark has claimed that the identification of this error ‘removes one faulty argument in favour of evolution.’ I do not find his claim credible.


  17. Dave Burke, You said;
    //In private correspondence with me, Mark has claimed that the identification of this error ‘removes one faulty argument in favour of evolution.’ I do not find his claim credible.//

    I hope everyone knows what “Private” means to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dave Burke says:

      It was nothing he hadn’t already said in public, so I wasn’t breaching a confidence. Because that’s what ‘private’ means to me. Are you going to address the topic?


      • Only to point out the irony that you see intelligent design in these artifacts.


      • Dave Burke says:

        Susan, it’s only natural that the work of intelligent beings reflect intelligences. There’s no irony here, and I speak as someone who believes intelligent design provides strong evidence of an intelligent Creator.


  18. DB, I’ve looked at that Facebook forum and it’s pretty dire. The typical Fundamentalist bubble with spittle flecked rants and repeated backslapping to reinforce collective delusion. And someone there is appealing to an Iron Age songbook to claim they know more than trained professionals. I suspect he knows about as much about that text as MT knows about débitage.


  19. Joel, you’re welcome for the post. It’s worth reflecting on the mechanics of what happened here because it helps explain why so many people apparently didn’t detect that something was wrong with the calculations, and that’s important. You see, there’s a reason why the original calculations could look credible even from an informed point of view. I’ll use MT’s post as the launch point.

    Let’s look at what he did. He’s sure that article is wrong because it contradicts what he wants to believe, and that’s good enough reason for him. But he knows he’ll look silly if he says that so he needs a secular objection which conceals his theological motivation and makes him look neutral. Something about light under bushels comes to mind here, but we’ll let that go for now.

    What’s interesting here is the context of his contradiction. He uses math because he knows math, so he can appeal to his own authority. Never mind that his argument doesn’t actually engage the science or contradict the evidence for evolution, he thinks it all falls apart if he can just identify a math mistake. He’s thinking that way because that’s his job, his area of expertise. But he even ends up getting the math argument wrong because he doesn’t understand what he’s trying to contradict. It’s all revealed in how he makes the calculation.

    He reads “strewn across the African continent”, and thinks all he has to do is calculate the volume of all those pyramids and calculate the surface area of Africa, and he’s checked the article. So he does this and finds the calculations would require the surface of Africa to be completely covered in meters of débitage. It obviously isn’t, so the math is wrong, so the article’s wrong, so it can’t support evolution. It all makes sense to him, because he’s thinking wrongly.

    Here’s the key point. Why does he only calculate the surface area of Africa, as if all the débitage should be found there? It’s because he doesn’t understand the subject he’s talking about. He was misled by statements such as X and Y. He didn’t understand débitage is typically found underground, because he isn’t thinking like an archaeologist. He’s thinking like an accountant with a flat piece of paper on his desk. He’s thinking the wrong way precisely because he isn’t trained in the field and doesn’t understand what he’s writing. And that’s the real point here; we should be very careful when we shoot our mouth off on a subject we’re not trained in.

    Now we get to something interesting. It’s speculative but worth considering. The fact is it’s possible for that volume of débitage to be located in Africa. Unlikely, but TECHNICALLY possible. Even if we confine the underground débitage depth to no deeper than 20 meters, and include African hill country no higher than 100 meters, and ground level piles no higher than half a meter in high density zones like quarries, that’s enough room to accommodate the débitage. It wouldn’t be uniformly distributed at all. Some of it would be extremely densely packed. But it would fit. So it’s possible, though unlikely, that if we could search the entire surface of Africa, then expose Africa’s surface to a uniform depth of twenty meters and dig out all the small hills, we could find such a volume of débitage. Again, possible. Not likely. Not even probable, I think. Just possible.

    But I think that it’s the fact that an informed reader who knows the field would realize it’s possible, which possibly gave some people pause for thought about whether or not the calculations were correct. They might have thought ‘débitages equivalent to a Great Pyramid every 1.3 km^2, is that even possible? Well… yeah, technically it is since most of it would be underground, hmmm’, and then maybe they didn’t think about it further, and just let it go. Maybe that’s what happened at the peer review stage. All speculative; still, possible.

    One of the reasons why I say this is that I had a very similar discussion with a friend when we were looking at your article, and at the original PlosOne article. We agreed the math was suspect, but looking at typical débitage patterns and factoring in the understanding that deep time débitage is virtually all underground, we did realilze it was possible (at least hypothetically). So it did make us stop and think before I ended up writing the authors to flag the issue with them, and maybe it was enough to make others think it wasn’t worth challenging them over. There’s another issue about the estimated average débitage artefact size they used in the calculation, which I’ve seen raised elsewhere (which, if true, totally invalidates their Great Pyramid metaphor), but that will take me more time to explain than I have now.

    So in the end what the whole math debacle is really about, is a simple error made in an attempt to write an accessible visual metaphor for the sheer volume of débitage which was discovered. But it’s not about pseudoscience or any flaw in the research, the data, or the conclusions. And that’s the point here. And that’s very likely why the article could have made it past peer review even given the error in the visual metaphor; it doesn’t affect in any way the actual scientific content and argument of the article.


  20. It looks like your article came to the attention of Answers in Genesis. Congratulations?

    They have posted a rebuttal to your review. Perhaps your quick acceptance of the interpretations of these scientists and confident put down of YECs based on this work needs to be thought through a bit more.

    From an article on this subject: “The researchers estimate that early human ancestors could have left behind up to five million stone tools in every square kilometre of Africa.”

    This shows the problems of historical science. This estimate is nothing more than a guess and even at that, it is based on certain assumptions about the past. It is an estimate made assuming the evolutionary ages are correct. Historical science is far far less precise than experimental science that can be done in the here and now, tested and either verified or falsified through observation and experimentation.


    • Hi Jim, sure there are extrapolations but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also millions of actual artifacts in collections and very reasonable estimates of how many there are yet to be found. Mortenson didn’t bother to really understand what artifacts actually are, nor does he actually talk to a person that has worked in the field and seen the artifacts first hand. Mortenson also misrepresents my assumptions and he could have avoided making so many mistakes if he had just asked me. I was with him a few weeks ago and he didn’t ask for any clarifications. Please see the excellent reply by Age of Rocks for a further analysis if Mortensons logic with with I very much agree.


  21. Your population numbers are extremely generous. Using discrete object simulation, software available, with actual human reproductive & mortality rates even with Biblical life spans at best you end up with about 20 adults and 15 children at Babel the approximate start of the Ice Age.


  22. How many years of erosion, is present on the worked stones?


    • That would be difficult to know. Even if the stones spans hundreds of thousands of years they may look very similar when found right next to each other. The rough amount of time since the stone was chipped might be determined by cosmogenic dating. But even then this could only tell you the age assuming that the rock has been exposed at the surface since its formation and most of these were probably buried in soils for thousands and hundreds of thousands of years before the soils were blown away exposing the rocks. The speed at which these rocks erodes is really slow so even if many of these artifacts are 100s of thousands of years old it may be difficult to tell just from erosion to their surfaces after their creation.


  23. Artifacts, sure….and there’s a pyramid on Mars….People see what they want to see.



  1. […] of YEC claims in geology and biology—by responding to Joel Duff’s must-read article Trillions of Stone Age Artifacts: A Young Earth Anthropology Paradox. In short, Dr. Duff summarizes the evidence to-date that trillions of stone tools are scattered […]


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