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.
Many rocks on the Ark Encounter property are loaded with brachiopods.
Bryozoans are also very plentiful.
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.
When it comes to the extensive fossil record of marine fossils, I assume flood geology would say that most (not all) of the individual creatures that died and were fossilised since Earth was formed would have been killed during the flood – Genesis 7 stating “On that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights” (maybe – like the floodgates of rain – the springs were bursting for forty days though it’s not crystal clear; the Bible implies that during the next 110 days or indeed the rest of the flood ‘year’ the weather was either dry or not continually wet).
From this blog post and others it would appear that there are probably way too many marine fossils for this to be the case (and if the flood is the main cause of the fossil record it also somehow took marine fossils hundreds of miles inland to eg the Himalaya).
Considering the truly vast numbers of fossils in the region of the Ark Park, it is interesting that after 150 years of collecting Ordovician fossils in the area by thousands of geologists and amateurs, not one fragment of a teleost fish, reptile, amphibian, or mammal has ever been found in these rocks. Not the teeniest, tiniest morsel of any terrestrial vertebrates has ever been found. Clearly, conditions for the preservation of hard parts like teeth or otoliths were excellent. Yet they are absolutely missing. Further, there has never been found any specimen or fragment of any species alive in today’s oceans. Lastly, there are no traces of any terrestrial life of any kind. No leaves, seeds, insects, or even a single grain of pollen. If there had been a global maelstrom as described in the bible, and if the land at the time of this incredibly powerful and destructive flood was inhabited by people and animals and plants familiar to us today, the flood would have rained pieces of all of those things down on the ocean sediments and at least fragmentary evidence would have been preserved. If one takes a sediment core from the floor of the modern oceans, even from 100 miles out to sea, evidence of terrestrial life is common. Pollen is found in almost every core, clear evidence of land plants. If all of the Ordovician fossils were deposited by the “Noachian Deluge” as claimed by Answers in Genesis, the rocks would be full of evidence of terrestrial life. However, none exists… not one iota. In other words, there was no terrestrial life on Earth when the rocks of the Cincinnatian were deposited, and none of the species alive today were alive back then. This is incontrovertible evidence that the Bible is not literally true and that the flood described therein never happened.
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Very well put. The diversity of fossils in the Ordovician is very limited and so even if you just consider marine organisms there are so many missing groups here. Missing pollen is absolutely evidence against a global flood. I find the lack of diatoms to be similarly strong evidence. I didn’t even mention that this same Ordovician limestone flora can be found on most continents and they all lack all the elements you suggest so that makes the flood scenario even more unbelievable.
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“Like” all the above – and the big numbers are clearly & overwhelmingly explained. I would add that the amount of carbon (as carbon dioxide) in Earth’s pre-Flood ecosystems (atmosphere & oceans) just waiting after Creation to be trapped to make coal & oil in the AiG scenario (and marine shells) would have made for a too-acid ocean and a Venus-hot atmosphere. This is INcredible – sad to say.
You might want to help me explain this to the guys at: Lutheran Science Institute (which see). Their blog of October 17 would have it that fast burial (in Flood time) could explain the perfect preservation of Grube Messel fossils – a volcanic lake ecosystem in Deep Time. It’s on Wiki, and already in the February 2000 National Geographic. Even main-line YECs have oped for a post-Flood subtropical Germany before their ice age kicks in, but LSI walks alone here. So now I’m asking them: What did such creatures eat in the time that it took to hike here across blasted land (in your scenario) all the way from Mt. Cudi (NNW of Mosul) to get buried at the Messel Pit? And why no C-14 in the mix?
As for the large quantities of CO2 you mention, please understand that Carbon was trapped in biologic systems over a lot of time. So the life forms themselves can show that the CO2 levels were not hugely different than what we see now. However, when CO2 went up a lot, something was always around to make use of it.
There’s also the problem that the Ark is covered in bitumen pitch. The same peculiar term that appears in the Gilgamesh epic, and which refers to the bitumen found bubbling up to the surface in Mesopotamia, is used in the Genesis story as well. However, this bitumen was produced by ancient buried algae deposits — which Creationists would have us believe didn’t exist until the Flood.
Not to mention it’s only marine organisms. Even assumed the flood carried them there, where are the remains of all those terrestrial creatures supposedly drowned in the waters?
There’s a minor error or two in the paragraph beginning, “Taking the volume of fossil estimates one step further,”…
The “less minor” one is a missing factor of 10 in your arithmetic: 100 x 214 = 21,400, NOT 214,000; if the “estimate is overestimated by [only!] a whopping 100 times”, the carbon content of the earth’s limestone would be 2,140 times that of the biosphere today!
The very minor error is one of notation. Exponents should be indicated by carets (^) rather than underscores (which rather indicate subscripts), so “6.42 x 10_22” & “3 x 10_17” should be “6.42 x 10^22” & “3 x 10^17”. ;)
Thanks for catching those. I will make the corrections.
How old are the fossils? I find it curious that no where do you mention that.
Hi, thanks for pointing that out. I talk about the fossils all being in Ordovician Period rock but should have put the ages of those rocks for those that don’t know the geological column. Those rocks are considered to be 485 million to 443 million years old but conventional dating methods.
Another small error –
” So that would be 800 shells per cubit foot x 40 cubit feet or 32000 shells per 30 cubic feet. ”
I got a chuckle, but I think you meant CUBIC feet, not CUBIT feet.
Ha yes. Thanks for that catch. Will fix. Must have been thinking about the Ark dimensions at the time:-)
“That gives us 400 fossils in one cubit foot”.
Love the Egyptian unit of measure that crept in there.
ah, yes, I must have had the ark dimensions in mind as well. That is the second place I did that. Will fix, though maybe I should just leave that one there.