If a global Flood destroyed all humans except Noah and his family just 4350 years ago, why don’t we find human fossils in the same layers of rock believed to be set down by Noah’s Flood? This is a perfectly natural and appropriate question for a young-earth creationist (YEC) to ask. After all, according to their interpretation earth’s history, nearly all fossil remains of dinosaurs, sea reptiles, trilobites, fish, cephalopods, molluscs, brachiopods and the quintillions of quintillions of other fossils we find preserved in rock today are said to be the result of their being instantly preserved during this singular catastrophic event just a few thousand years ago.
If these fossils represent organisms that had been alive as the Flood waters consumed the earth, where are all the human fossils? Yes, thousands of human fossils have been found and everyone agrees they exist. However, there is agreement within the young-earth community that all known human fossils (including all Neanderthals, Homo erectus and many other hominin species) were preserved following dispersal after Noah departed the Ark and thus are descendants of his family, and not as a result of the Great Flood.
A similar and possibly more frequently encountered question is this: If dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time why are no human fossils found with dinosaur fossils?
Not surprisingly, young-earth apologetics organizations such as Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis (AiG) and Henry Morris’ Institute for Creation Research (ICR), encounter these questions frequently at YEC events. In response, they have sought to provide “answers” to these difficult questions in their books, pamphlets and website materials.
Let’s take a look at the responses to these challenges that AiG and ICR provide. Starting with AiG, Bodie Hodge (son-in-law of Ken Ham of AiG) in Chapter 13 of The New Answers Book. This chapter, entitled “Why Don’t We Find Human & Dinosaur Fossils Together?”, provides the most frequently-repeated young-earth responses. He suggests several possibilities (in italics below):
1) Many other groups of animals have sparse fossil records.
Yes, that is true but even a sparse record is a fossil record rather than NO fossil record at all. Further, most groups that have sparse fossil records are soft-bodied organisms, like jelly fish, rather than vertebrates which usually have excellent fossil records. And hominid fossils are not sparse. They are merely absent from this layer.
2) Humans populations may not have been very large and so fossils would be very rare and we simply haven’t found them yet.
Some YECs believe that pre-Flood human populations may have only numbered a few hundred million, but others have argued that with longer lifespans and more ideal climatic conditions before the Flood, the pre-Flood population could have been in the billions. Either way, the complete lack of evidence of both human remains and any remnant of their culture is not expected. Also consider that there would certainly not have been billions of T. rex‘s alive at the time of the Flood and yet we have remains of hundreds of them.
3) Humans were able to evade the flood waters during the first stages of the Flood perishing late in the Flood therefore not buried but rather rotted without burial.
How realistic is it that all people, including small children and the elderly, were able to outrun the Flood waters when so many other animals perished right away? Furthermore, this would not explain the complete lack of preservation of their cultural artifacts (see addendum below) which they would have left behind while running to escape the Flood waters. (Are humans really better runners and swimmers than the animals who supposedly drowned immediately in these flood waters?)
4) Humans lived in isolated pockets and those spots have not yet been discovered in the fossil record.
This flies in the face of the reality. If the entire geography of the earth was so devastated by the Flood that not one single, pre-Noah location can be found today, then there is no justification for making such a claim. It is an ad hoc hypothesis/conclusion which assumes that supporting evidence simply hasn’t been found yet, even though no other reason to advance the conclusion exists.
ICR attempts to provide new answers for the human fossils problem
From ICR we have science writer Brian Thomas providing his own unique perspective in an article simply titled: Where are all the human fossils? In it he provides possible answers to another frequently asked question: Why are human fossils not found with dinosaur fossils? Here are some highlights from the article with my responses.
“Many assume that dinosaur layers should also contain human fossils. Not at all. Dinosaur fossil layers contain sea, swamp, and lake plants and animals, and mostly water birds. They have virtually no remains of land-dwellers like dogs, deer, bears, or bunnies. Humans live on solid ground, not in swamps—and definitely not in pre-Flood swamps where dinosaurs might treat them as light snacks. The best places to look for fossils of pre-Flood humans would be in deposits that contain land-dwellers like pre-Flood dogs and deer.”
It is difficult to know where to begin because there are so many problems. First, Thomas implies that dinosaurs lived in swamps while humans lived on dry land. Furthermore, he references another YEC book on dinosaurs as evidence to support these incorrect statements. Dinosaur remains have been found in rock types that suggest they lived on every land environment on earth. The idea they lived mostly, or exclusively, in swamps is demonstrably false. This is a version of the “dinosaurs and humans didn’t live near each other and so they weren’t preserved together” argument I have heard many times before. But, if this is true, why do Ken Ham and other creationists churn out kids’ books showing the pre-Flood world with dinosaurs being used as beasts of burden and living alongside people? Dinosaurs are even pictured as wearing saddles! Talk about mixed messages.
Even if we granted that dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time but didn’t generally live in the same places this still doesn’t provide a reasonable answer because: 1) the Flood would have mixed together the remains of those swept away, 2) YECs claim that many dinosaurs were able to escape the initial stages of the Flood and survive to make footprints on scattered bits of land that appeared during the Flood. Humans also are said to have all escaped the early stages of the Flood and would have been floating around with the dinosaurs in the later stages as well, (if both escaped round one and we have dinosaur fossils, then we should have human fossils-and footprints, too) and 3) this doesn’t help them explain why there are NO human fossils found anywhere in the Flood’s fossil record at all. Even if the humans weren’t buried with the dinosaurs, wouldn’t they be expected to be found somewhere in Flood deposits?
Strangely, Thomas thinks the fact that dinosaur deposits have no dogs, deer, bears or bunnies helps his case. But not a single dog, deer, bear or bunny fossil has ever been found in any rocks that YECs agree were produced during the Flood! In fact, the absence of these fossils within rocks containing dinosaur fossils only accentuates the problem they face with the lack of human fossils. Thomas should have gone further. Rocks that contain dinosaur fossils also never contain the following types of animals: kangaroos, koalas, sloths, anteaters, mice, rats, monkeys of any type, squirrels, horses, giraffes, elephants, pronghorn, hyenas, raccoons, rhinos, hippos, etc. … I could go on, but you get the idea. There are no fossils from any modern groups of mammals found with dinosaurs. Are we to believe that mammals also didn’t live near any dinosaurs before the Flood? Or that all mammals were somehow killed late in the flood and instead swept into continental shelf deposits (see below)? You see, the problem for YECs is far bigger than a lack of human fossils.
We are looking in the wrong place?
“Most Flood-friendly geologists have identified Cenozoic rocks as Ice Age layers that formed soon after the Flood. Others have recently reconsidered them to be Flood deposits. So, we haven’t been looking for pre-Flood humans in rock layers we thought were deposited after the Flood. A new generation of Bible-believing fossil experts might do well to scour Cenozoic rocks for pre-Flood human remains.”
A significant break between AiG and ICR shows up here, and I believe this is the real reason why Brian Thomas wrote this article. It seems that he was looking for a way to promote Dr. Tim Clarey’s recent work at ICR on the Flood/Post-flood boundary. Clarey believes that Flood deposits include all rocks in the geological column except the Eocene Epoch (35mya) and above, but possibly up to rocks that conventional geologists claim are just a few million years old (Quaternary Period). This is a radically different view than that promoted by Dr. Snelling at AiG, who holds the more traditional YEC view that the Flood/post-Flood transition goes all the way back to the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary, conventionally dated at 66 million years ago (e.g. the time of the asteroid strike which doomed the dinosaurs). If Clarey is right, some human fossils that Snelling would claim are post-Flood, and therefore Noah’s descendants, are actually Flood fossils and therefore Noah’s contemporaries, that were destroyed by the flood. Either way, scientists (YEC or otherwise, Clary believes) have not been searching for human fossils in the right place! If human fossils had been found anywhere, in any rocks, they would have been reported because scientists, like any of us, are interested in making spectacular finds. Especially if they had found remains in a layer in which no one expected, they would hardly have kept it a secret.
It is worth noting that YECs have had an extraordinarily difficult time defining exactly what fossils were formed by Noah’s Flood and which ones formed after Noah’s Flood. I’ve read Clarey and Snelling’s work and both point to reasons why the other position is absolutely wrong. Might I suggest that the reason that they both have “proof” that the other is wrong is that they are both wrong! Nonetheless, it is important to note that this is one significant point of disagreement between these two large YEC apologetics organizations and one that leads to divergent answers to other questions, such as those we are discussing here.
Thomas continues by suggesting that the fossils are in places we aren’t able to look:
“Second, ICR geologist Dr. Tim Clarey’s new continent-wide rock layer maps have revealed that many Cenozoic deposits lie offshore since Flood waters washed off of continents and into today’s oceans. It’s hard to dig for fossils in layers trapped beneath the sea. Plus, the violence of Flood runoff waters may have pulverized any human remains they carried.”
Thomas again references Clarey and suggests that the late-Flood rocks would have formed from waters running off of continents and thus the fossils of humans could be offshore and not able to be found. Of course this assumes, as does Bodie Hodge at AiG, that all of Noah’s contemporaries somehow escaped the ravages of this global catastrophe for many months while tens of thousands of feet of sediment were being deposited beneath them, only to find themselves preserved in the last sediments deposited that Flood year. I will point out again that this assumes that babies, children and the elderly could run away from a flood and tread water in the open ocean or hold on to floating trees. This is not a plausible scenario, to put it kindly. Furthermore, there are plenty of Cenozoic deposits that are accessible to geologists. There are massive continental shelves that have been uplifted by earthquakes that we can, and have, investigated and if such fossils existed we would likely have found them.
Lastly, as if knowing that his previous arguments would not be very persuasive, Brian Thomas turns to blaming biased fossil collectors and not enough of the “right” people looking for fossils as his final attempt to explain the absence of human fossils within dinosaur fossil layers. He seems to think that if we looked in the right spots we would find them, but paleontologists searching for fossils simply don’t ignore fossils they find. They look for whatever they can find in any rock. To find anything that would resemble a human would be the find of a lifetime for any paleontologist and would never be ignored.
Pull out the final trump card: God did it
If the reader doesn’t find these “answers” fully satisfactory, Dr. Snelling (AiG also) and Hodge both provide the ultimate escape hatch by appealing to the Bible which states that God said he would destroy all humanity. They suggest that this could mean that when animals were killed, their bones were preserved, but God made sure that the bones of all humans killed would not be preserved, because he said that he would destroy them. So their final appeal is to a miracle. God intervened to be sure the Flood waters would not preserve any evidence of man before the Flood. Presumably this includes even artifacts representing pre-Flood civilization such as tools, pottery and clothing.
None of these individual arguments is convincing and, when combined, they should provide little solace to the person who has thoughtfully considered the YEC model of earth history. Most arguments are ad-hoc, wishful thinking or suggestions of potentially possible, yet wildly improbable, events.
Hence, the question remains to be adequately answered: If dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time why are no human fossils found with dinosaur fossils? And we would add a further question that YEC enthusiasts should be asking YEC speakers: Why are there no fossilized representing any modern mammalian family (or kinds if you prefer) found mixed with dinosaur bones anywhere on the planet?
Addendum 1: Where are the human artifacts!
It isn’t just human fossils that are missing from the Flood fossil record, there are no preserved artifacts from the great civilizations that existed prior to the Flood. However, there is a great desire on the part of zealous YEC followers to find the “smoking gun” evidence that man has existed since the very beginning of creation—or at least since the 6th day—which they believe would be compel the non-believer to accept their interpretation of the Bible’s account of origins. Thus is it not surprising that there have been many claims made in fringe YEC literature and conspiracy websites of human remains or cultural artifacts being found in rocks that are presumed to have been laid down during Noah’s global flood.
At present, however, validated evidence doesn’t exist, despite many claims having been made on the internet. Dr. Snelling, of Answers in Genesis, is skeptical of all of these claims and rightly concludes that no such artifacts or human remains have yet been found that point to man’s existence before the global flood. Snelling is correct in saying that no human remains or artifacts have been found along with dinosaurs, for instance, but his admission serves to highlight a YEC problem that their audience recognizes as such.
Here is a quote from Snelling’s article “Where are all the human fossils?” He correctly casts doubt on any reports of human artifacts said to be preserved in the wake of Noah’s flood.
“Thus, should genuine human fossils or artifacts from the time of Noah’s Flood be found, then it is mandatory that proper scientific procedures be followed to document the geological context, in order to guarantee that the scientific significance of such a find is unequivocally demonstrated. Regretfully, of course, the hardened skeptic would still remain unconvinced, but at least such a find may still awaken some in the apathetic public and a few of the more open-minded scientists.
What is needed, of course, are actual human bones fossilized in situ as an integral part of rock strata that are demonstrably ancient in evolutionary terms, and therefore are usually Flood sediments of the creationist framework for earth history. Yet here is where the real hard unequivocal evidence is lacking and why people ask the question ‘Where are all the human fossils?’”
Addendum 2: If dinosaurs survived the Flood why don’t we find their remains in post-Flood rocks?
If dinosaurs survived the flood and lived contemporaneously with people in the not-so-distant past, then what happened to them? Any Young Earth Creationist is going to have to contend with this question. Ken Ham and others have responded to this question as well. They typically suggest that dinosaurs simply couldn’t handle climate change and so every type of dinosaur went extinct soon after departing from Noah’s Ark. But Ken Ham and AiG also suggest that humans hunted them to extinction as well. These answers are no more convincing than those provided for why human fossils are found in Flood deposits. I have written about the missing dinosaur bones in post-Flood rocks in my article: Where did all the dinosaurs go? Ken Ham’s Climate and Human-Induced Dinosaur Extinction Hypothesis.
Editing kindly provided by MC