Young earth creationists greatly underestimate the fossil record when they tell their audiences that there are “billions of dead things buried in rock layers.” The point, that there are huge numbers of fossils, is correct but billions is such an underwhelming number compared to the reality of the fossil record. The vastness of the fossil record was driven home to me – yet again – while standing among millions of fossils on a barren hillside in remote Wyoming this summer (see: Coming to Grips of the Absurdity of the Flood Geology Model of Fossil Origins).
Recently I read several research papers about the Sundance Formation in Wyoming. It was this very rock formation I had hiked through and witnessed huge numbers of fossils this summer. In the discussion section of one of these papers (1) the authors made the following observation about the fossil belemnites (extinct squid-like animals) found there:
… the Redwater Shale is likewise dominated by the belemnoid Pachyteuthis densus. The density of these is staggering: assuming a conservative density of 100 individuals per square meter, there are over one quadrillion belemnoids preserved just in the Bighorn Basin portion of the Sundance Sea, and a similar number of oysters.
You read that right, over 1 quadrillion – or >1,000,000,000,000,000 – of a single species of belemnite. As they state, this is a conservative estimate and I believe it after having observed belemnites in much greater abundance at multiple locations and considering that the deposits that contain them are tens or even a hundred feet thick. It would not be surprising if this is a 10 fold underestimate of the number of belemnites. And there are at least as many Gryphaea oysters and as many again of other bivalves shells. It would be safe to say that there are quadrillions upon quadrillions of fossils in the Bighorn Basin.
Significantly, this is only an estimate for the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming. This region is just a small portion of the entire geographical range in which these fossils can be found. The same belemnites are found throughout the Jurassic Sundance Formation which represents sedimentary deposits in a huge shallow sea extending from what is Alaska today all the way down into Colorado. Beleminites are found in abundance through much of the Sundance Formation so it would not be surprising at all if the entire Sundance Formation could have 100 quadrillion (100,000,000,000,000,000) or more belemnite fossils.
That is a lot of fossils! Consider also what they represent. Many of the preserved rostrums of these belemnites are two inches or longer and the rostrum was only a small portion at the distal end of the extinct squid-like creature. Therefore quadrillions of squid from 1 to 2 feet long must have existed in the past.
I said in my last post (Wyoming Fossils: Coming to Grips with the Absurdity of the Flood Model of the Origin of Fossils) that seeing these fossils makes the absurdity of the recent global flood model of young earth creationism very clear. In their interpretation of the fossil record all 100 quadrillion individuals of this species of belemnite must have all been alive at the same time in the pre-flood ocean. Somehow thousands of feet of sediments were deposited in this region via a global and chaotic flood without preserving any of these animals then suddenly within a few dozen feet of sediments they were all trapped and preserved across thousands of square miles leaving no trace of survivors in sediments laid down later in the global Flood or since the Flood. It should be apparent that the Flood narrative is utterly void of explanatory power and finds no support in the observed fossil record. Paleontologists can hardly be blamed for their utter disbelief when told that all these fossils were formed in the space of a few days or few weeks.
If that weren’t enough let’s think about these fossils a bit further. The surface of the earth is approximately 5.5 Quadrillion square feet (197 million square miles). If there were only 1 quadrillion belemnites alive in the pre-Flood oceans and the entire surface of the earth were covered with water then there would a one belemnite squid per every 5.5 square feet. That hardly leaves room for quadrillions of small fish, millions of sea reptiles, septillions of clams and other crustaceans and surely quadrillions of additional individuals of other belemnite species not to mention the quintillions of ammonites that are in the fossil record. Even this is an underestimate of the density of fossils since there were many more belemnites and the earth’s surface has always had a significant portion of dry land and so not available to ocean creatures.
Let’s try out 100 quadrillion belemnites in an Earth that is half covered with water. That would be 100 quadrillion divided by 2.25 quadrillion square feet or a total of 44.4 belemnites per square foot! Do we need to continue? Do we need to talk about a quintillion belemnites from deposits in other places in the world!? What about the 100s of quadrillions of clams and other bivalves from the Sundance Sea? If we spread these fossils out over the entire earth they would account for wellover 100 fossils per square foot. These numbers necessitate that either they are conspiratorial vast overestimates or the recent global flood narrative of YECs is wrong. Having observed masses of these fossils I wouldn’t bet on the former.
The vastness of the fossil record absolutely defies the flood geology narrative. Ken Ham far underestimates the fossil record even as he tries to wow his audiences by telling them that billions of fossils are found buried in rock layers. He should be saying quintillions times quintillions of fossils are found buried in rock layers.
So, is there a more reasonable way to fit quadrillions and quadrillions of belemnites into Earth’s history? Yes, and it isn’t difficult. If this species persisted over millions of years then only a few million would need to be alive during any one year. This is a far more realistic number of organisms that would have also been living in community with dozens of other species of marine animals. The fossil record represents the accumulation of rostrums of belemnites over time as they are eaten by predators and left on the sea floor.
Also consider that the rostrums are the only readily preserved parts of a these extinct squid under typical conditions in a shallow sea. Had these squid been suddenly trapped in a sudden global catastrophe we would expect to find remains of the other portions of the squid bodies. Yet, tentacles and other soft-part preservation is exceedingly rare accounting for fewer than 0.00000000001% of belemnite fossils.
More strikingly, there is a second hard part of the internal skeleton of belemnites that includes the species found here. It is called the phragmocene and sat just inside front of the rostrum. Had living belemnites been buried alive there should be one phragmocene per each rostrum in the fossil record. However, phragmocenes in the fossil record are very rare compared to the rostrum. One plausible explanation for this observed disparity in the fossil record is that the phragmocene would have been detached from the rostrum if eaten by a sea reptile or other predator. In addition, if it was not preserved quickly the phragmocene was more susceptible to being dissolved or decayed in the shallow sea waters than was the much harder rostrum. So here again we find the pattern of fossil preservation favors a shallow sea with gradual accumulation of rostrums over long periods of time vs a global flood which should have preserved the entire organism.
Belemnite fragments exposed on the surface of a hill near the Red Gulch dinosaur trackway in the Bighorn Basin (Wyoming). The larger belemnites are over 2 inches long.
Here is a portion of an ant hill on a hillside where we found belemnites. If you click on this picture and look closely you will see that most of these small pebbles that the red harvester ants have collected are tiny belemnites or fragments of them. I count 135 belemnites in what amounts to about 1/4 of a square foot. Considering that most of these ant mounds are several square feet in size and are at least inches deep there are potentially tens of thousands of belemnites in some of these ant mounds. These fossils represent baby squid that either died naturally or more likely were eaten by the thousands by sea reptiles and their tiny rostrums vomited up or passed through the intestines to fall to the sea floor.
It isn’t just the sheer number of these fossils but also the very limited distribution of them in the fossil record that is so challenging to the single global flood narrative of fossil origins. Why would quadrillions of tiny squid be found deposited with squid that are much larger? Why aren’t these fossils found throughout the geological column? Young-earth flood geology has no reasonable answers to these questions.
(1) Mcmullen, Sharon K., Steven M. Holland, and F. ROBIN O’KEEFE. “The occurrence of vertebrate and invertebrate fossils in a sequence stratigraphic context: the Jurassic Sundance Formation, Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, USA.”Palaios 29, no. 6 (2014): 277-294.