The Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky is literally built on trillions of dead things. This fact would seem to support Ken Ham’s popular response to what we would expect had the world been subject to a global flood: “Billions of dead things in rock layers…” But the fossils that form the foundation of his Ark park tell a different story.
The rock that is exposed at the surface of the 800 acres that the Ark Encounter occupies is Ordovician Period limestones and other marine deposits. These same rock types are exposed over an area from central Kentucky up into southern Ohio and a bit of Indiana. And it contains fossils. Lots and lots of fossils! Below I estimate at least 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) macrofossils and uncountable numbers of microfossils are preserved in the rock underneath the Ark Encounter theme park alone.
When I visited the Ark Encounter in July of 2016 I took some time to examine some of the outcrops of bedrock in the park and freeway road-cut nearby. Below are a few pictures I took of some of those rocks showing the types of fossils that the contain.
This rock has a very high density of a mixture of brachiopods, bryozoans and crinoids.
The rock that sits immediately below the Ark Encounter is limestone. This limestone is made up of countless tiny shells of micro-organisms and larger fossils (Forams vs diatoms: testing the young earth flood geology hypothesis) and dissolved shells. There is over 1000 feet of limestone rock below the Ark Encounter but we will only consider the fossils shells (brachiopods), crinoids, sponges, bryozoans and trilobites that are present in the upper 300 feet of this limestone formation this is exposed in the northern Kentucky region.
Above is a longitudinal cross-section of a geological formation called the Cincinnati Arch which brings the Ordovician Period rock formations to the surface in central Kentucky up into southern Indiana and Ohio. In places there is several hundred feet of Ordovician fossil-bearing limestones and other marine rocks exposed in road cuts and river valleys. But even below the Ohio River there is over 1000 feet of additional Ordovician Limestone. Much of this rock contains fossils as well. Below this rock is the Knox Super Group with is dolomitic rock which contains many fewer fossils.
This Ordovician limestone can be found buried deep below the entire Midwest region and all the way out into the plains states. But let’s just focus on the area where the rocks are exposed at the surface in the Cincinnati Arch and where the fossils in them are exposed for everyone to see.
Macrofossils below the Ark Encounter property:
Just how many fossils are there below the Ark. If we include the microfossils that make up much of the limestone the numbers would truly be astronomical. Surely there are septillions upon septillions of organisms represented in the rock below the Ark Encounter. But we are going to limit ourselves to macrofossils (1/4-inch or larger) for our estimate.
The Ark Encounter sits on 800 acres of land. At 43,560 square feet in one acre, 800 acres is 34,848,000 square feet.
To make an estimate of the fossils in the rocks below the Ark Encounter we will start with rock that has a moderate density of fossils. In one square foot of rock with moderate fossil representation I estimate there are 40 small fossil shells, crinoids and bryozoans spread out horizontally. Vertically the fossils mostly lie flat and at least 20 layers of fossilized shells are discernible in a foot of thickness.
That gives us 400 fossils in one cubic foot. There is at least a 30 foot thick section of fossil-dense rock over this entire area with another 100 to 300 feet of additional layers of rock some with locally dense fossils. A very conservative estimate would be that there is at least 40 feet of medium-density fossil-bearing rock below the Ark Encounter. So that would be 800 shells per cubic foot x 40 cubic feet or 32000 shells per 30 cubic feet. If we multiply that by the amount of surface area of the Ark Encounter (34.848 million square feet) we get 1,115,136,000,000. Let’s round that down to an even 1 trillion fossils.
The conclusion: The Ark Encounter sits on over 1 trillion (1,000,000,000,000) macrofossils in addition to countless smaller fossils.
It is also worth emphasizing that the type of fossisl found here are not a random collection of organism. Rather, they solely represent marine organisms all of which are extinct species and sometime entire extinct groups (e.g. trilobites) of organisms. That is important because the Ark Encounter preaches that a chaotic world-wide Flood swallowed up all animals and plants and buried them in sediment to quickly preserve them as fossils.
The rocks below the Ark Encounter speak against that proposition. There is no fossil evidence that any mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibian or even any plants have been preserved in theses rocks. How could a global flood washing over the entire earth deposit trillions of shells stacked hundreds of feet on top of each other exclude all land-dwelling organisms?
How many fossils are preserved in regional Ordovician rocks?
If there are a trillion fossils underneath an 800 acre property how many might there be in the upper-Ordovician rocks of central Kentucky, and southern Indiana and Ohio? I estimate there is roughly an area of 80 x 100 miles or 8,000 square miles of exposed Ordovician period rock in this region. There are 5280 feet in a mile so 5280 squared provides a value of 27,878,400 square feet per square mile. If we multiply that number by the area where Ordovician rock is exposed (8000 square miles) we get the total square feet of exposed Ordovician rock in this region. That would be 8,000 x 27,878,400 which is 223,027,200,000. Let’s just round that down to 200 billion square feet to be more conservative.
We have already calculated a minimum number of fossils preserved in the Ordovician limestone immediately below the Ark Encounter. That number was 32,000 fossils the size of a small shell per each square foot with the understanding that is a very modest estimate of how many fossils there would be if we brought of a core of the rock one square foot in size and pulled the fossils out of that core.
Having observed fossils in many road cuts around the southern Ohio and northern Kentucky region I know that the Ark Encounter site is not unusual with respect to fossil density. There have also been many cores taken across the region as part of geological surveys that demonstrate that this limestone has dense layers of fossils across the entire region. As a result, it is reasonable to assume that our estimate of fossils per square foot can be applied beyond the Ark Encounter location.
So we take the total area (200 billion square feet) and multiply that by the number of fossils under each square foot (32,000) and we get 6,400,000,000,000,000 macrofossils. That is 6.4 quadrillion fossils. I believe this is a very conservative number and I would not be surprised if there were not tens of quadrillions of fossils in these rocks would not be surprising.
Quadrillions of fossils is difficult for anyone to imagine. To put that number in perspective, the surface of the earth is approximately 5.5 Quadrillion square feet (197 million square miles). So the Cincinnati Arch limestone has enough shell-sized fossils to cover the entire earth with at least one shell per every square foot. That might not seem too impressive but then consider the quadrillions of fossils on Kansas, the quintillions of shells in Wyoming and so forth. Before long it becomes clear that the density of the fossil record requires that there is an average of thousands of fossils underneath each square foot of the earth.
What are the implications of this number crunching exercise?
Fossils are incredible abundant! In fact, far too abundant for the young-earth narrative of earth’s history. As we saw in an earlier post looking at fossils in Wyoming (Quadrillions, Quintillions and Beyond: The Vast Fossil Record Refutes the Global Flood Narrative). Can the implications of such vast numbers of fossils be any more clear? And it isn’t just the number of fossils but the distribution pattern of these fossils that the young earth narrative can’t explain. The quadrillions of fossils here are not very diverse. There are a limited number of species and what is not found here is also important. For example, there are no diatoms in these Ordovician limestone (Diatoms: Tiny Organisms Highlight Big Inconsistencies in Young Earth Flood Geology). These and other missing fossils can’t be explained by a global flood.
If you are stunned by these numbers because you have believed a global flood was responsible for all the fossils you are probably wondering, what is the creation science response to this? Some YECs will posit that the enormous number of shells are the remains of organisms that lived and died between Creation (6000 years ago) and the Flood (4350 years ago) and all got deposited together in the Flood. They may also suggest that growing conditions were better before the Flood resulting in more rapid growth of crinoids and bivalves. Even if this was a plausible explanation- which it isn’t – for the fossils found under the Ark Encounter these hypotheses fail to explain the the rest of the fossil record such as the belemnites in Wyoming (Wyoming Fossils: Coming to Grips with the Absurdity of the Flood Geology Model).
The big picture
Putting all of this together I feel confident that I have greatly underestimated the number of fossil shells from this regions in the Midwest. And consider that the fossils in this entire area surely represent a tiny fraction of the total fossil shells found in rocks around the world. Even considering that many of these organisms might have lived and died before a global flood it is hard to imagine that this many organisms living and dying in only 2000 years, much less why they would all be found in such abundance in discrete layers of rock above rock (dolomite) that has many fewer fossils.
Taking the volume of fossil estimates one step further, one estimate I’ve found of the total carbon in limestone of the earth is 6.42 x 10^22 grams. Compare this to the estimated 3 x 10^17 grams of carbon bound up in living things in the entire biosphere and that is 214,000 times more carbon present in this form than is currently in living things on earth. Even if this estimate is overestimated by a whopping 100 times then that would still put 2,140 times as much carbon than is present in the biosphere today. Imagine how much living stuff there is and then imagine there being 2140 times that much. WOW! And to top it all off we are only talking about limestone here. We are not talking about trillions of barrels of oil, the countless diatoms in rock, or any animal deposits.
There are simply too many shells and other fossils in the fossil record to be explained as having all lived during a brief period of time between the creation and a global flood in the YEC chronology. The presence of these fossils, the types of fossils, and the positions they are found are in direct contradiction to the recent global flood narrative. As a result, it is not surprising that other Biblically-consistent interpretations of these fossils has been sought out by Christians interested in faithfully understanding Scripture and general revelation.
I will end with a few more images of fossils that I collected from a road-cut just a few hundred yards off of the Ark Encounter property.