During the last Ice Age when the oceans were up to 300 feet lower than they are today, an extensive cave system on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico was exposed, above sea level, allowing it to potentially be occupied by animals and humans. When the massive ice sheets melted from the Earth’s surface causing the oceans to rise, these cave systems were drowned and are now only accessible by divers.
In 2012, divers exploring one of these drowned caves systems discovered a nearly complete human skeleton on the cave floor over 3000 feet from the nearest entrance. Pieces of that skeleton have been dated yielding an age estimated at 13,000 years before present (Stinnesbeck et al. 2017).
What was this person doing thousands of years ago deep inside a dark cave? A recently published research paper (MacDonald et al. 2020) provides one answer: they were mining the caves for ochre used to make red paint. Cave divers have painstakingly mapped large portions of one cave network and smaller portions of two others, identifying hundreds of ochre mining locations throughout the caves.It is apparent that this mining operation wasn’t merely the product of a few excursions to get a little bit of clay pigment. This was an organized industry that, evidence suggests, took place over a stretch of at least a thousand years. Evidence of extensive and prolonged use of these caves comes in the form of cairns—man-made piles of stones—produced from stacks of broken stalactites and stalagmites, large numbers of stalactites removed from locations in the cave to allow people to pass through smaller passages, and abundant charcoal from fires. The charcoal was dated from 12,000 to 10,000 years old. Layers of charcoal showed use at multiple intervals. Charcoal and stalactites removed from the ceiling had been covered by additional layers of flowstone (sheetlike deposits of minerals on surfaces from thin layers of mineral-rich waters flowing over them) indicating the passage of time after their use but prior to the cave system being inundated by rising sea levels and water tables.
A tight squeeze! When did this mining activity occur in the young-earth timeline of human history?
Native Americans drawing on resources in caves 10,000 years ago (or much more, see: Evidence grows that peopling of the Americas began more than 20,000 years ago) is anathema to young earth creationists (YECs) who insist that all people alive today are dispersed descendants of a sole population that had gathered 4250 years ago, possibly only 100 years after Noah’s Flood, at Babel in the Middle East (see timeline below). According to the typical young-earth interpretation of history, some of those people left Babel and quickly migrated through Asia over the Bering Strait and into the New World. The land bridge between North America and Asia had just formed during an Ice Age that also began 4250 years ago. From there, individuals migrated down into North America, Central America and eventually South America.
Therefore, for young-earth creationists the oldest date of human occupation of these caves must be no more than 4250 years (2250 B.C.) before present and probably several hundred years more recent than that. I’ve explored this unrealistic timeline several times in the past (Human Remains in a Drowned Ice Age Cave Contradict Young-Earth Chronology, Underwater Cave Yields Fossilized Teenager From the Ice Age, and Man-made Hunting Structure Discovered Under Lake Huron: A North American Doggerland?). Many addition problems with this compressed time-span are provided in GeoChristian’s excellent article: The Pleistocene is not in the Bible — A critique of “When Was the Ice Age in Biblical History?”
Each of these illustrates how, once again, the young-earth timeline runs afoul of observations from the world around us. The YEC literalistic hermeneutic drives them to defend (and to create) hypotheses that aren’t required either by the scriptures of God’s revelation through the world around us.
The evidence of extensive mining in a cave system only accessible during the last Ice Age is challenging to the typical timeline found in material published by a leading creationist organization, Answers in Genesis (e.g. figure above) but more recently Dr. Nathanial Jeanson has proposed a potentially even more restricted timeline of human migration. In a series of videos, Dr. Jeanson methodically unpacks his new ideas for the “New History of the Human Race” wherein he uses molecular analyses of Y chromosome DNA data to reinterpret conventional timelines and geographical migration patterns within the context of all human lineages beginning with Noah and his sons 4350 years ago. In this series, he repeatedly speculates that there could have been no people—or at least no established cultures*—in the New World prior to the global famine during the time of Joseph’s rule in Egypt around 1900 B.C. (see previous post: Answers from Jeanson: Revealing the Truth of Joseph’s Global Famine?)
Regarding a global famine, he takes a cue from YEC meteorologist Michael Oard who proposes that a global drought may have been caused by a post-Flood Ice Age whose maximum effects may have occurred 500 to 700 years after Noah’s flood. This places it before or around the time when Joseph was in Egypt. Jeanson speculates that this Ice Age-induced global drought may have caused the global famine which led to people from the whole earth coming to Egypt to buy grain.
That individuals living in the Yucatan experienced drought conditions and thought about making, let alone actually making, the trek all the way to Egypt to procure grain seems far fetched at best. But Jeanson has crafted for himself a possible rescuing mechanism. Using a new method to convert conventional dates to young-earth-acceptable dates (see below), Jeanson suggests that people had yet to migrate to the New World by the time of Joseph. For example, in Episode 22 of his video series on the New History of Human Races he says: “I find this fascinating. Again the very preliminary research and progress may change, but given what we have now, this suggests that the only civilizations around at the time of Joseph (are) in close geographic proximity to Egypt.”
If Jeanson is correct then the whole world coming to Joseph would not have required migrations from the New World since that land was not yet populated by humans at the time. This would make his interpretation of the Joseph account as a global event slightly more plausible.
However, I would suggest that Jeanson’s thesis that the New World might be uninhabited at the time of Joseph is wrong. He needs to consider the abundant evidence of widespread occupation and sophisticated cultural advancement of people in the New World during the Ice Age. That would include this well-developed mining operation which could only have existed during an Ice Age when sea levels were much lower than present. For the YEC, this must have been at a time when Joseph was presiding over Egypt. Therefore if he insists on a biblical interpretation of Genesis 41 (that peoples from the whole world came to Egypt) he would also need to include Native Americans traveling from all parts of the New Word to Egypt at this time.
Converting conventional dates to young-earth dates?
But what about those 10,000 to 12,000 year old dates obtained from charcoal and the remains of people and large animals that also found their way into the caves while they were above sea level? Dr. Jeanson has developed a crude conversion table to allow creationists to quickly convert any conventional date into a young-earth-acceptable date. He does through a rather opaque set of calculations based on Y-chromosome differences and estimates of population size over time. You will have to watch his videos to hear his explanation (Jeanson 2019, 2020). In the screen capture below I have used a visualization of his conversion table to convert a 10,000 year old conventional date for the youngest ochre mines to a young-earth-acceptable one. The blue dotted lines represent a standard deviation-type range where conventional vs YEC dates should be found. I have drawn orange arrows to indicate how 10000 B.C. (12,000 years before present) would convert to YEC time. This conversion reveals that the 12,000 year old C14 dates are equivalent to a young-earth date between 2000 and 2100 years B.C which would be 4000 to 4100 years ago. Joseph is thought to have ruled in Egypt around 1900 B.C. (3900 years before present).
Jeanson’s conversion method places the evidence for human occupation of the Yucatan peninsula 100+ years before Joseph’s famine. This is but one example of evidence of people living in the New World during the most recent Ice Age. If Jeanson wishes to propose an abrupt end to the Ice Age 500 to 700 years after the Flood, he will need to accommodate a significant and widespread New World population (see: Evidence grows that peopling of the Americas began more than 20,000 years ago). Similar archaeological finds from Canada (my Lake Huron example above), to drowned camps off the coast of Florida and numerous Ice Age settlements on through South America (Amazonian Forest Islands: Accidental Products of Ancient Human Occupation) were present during that Ice Age and, thus, before and up to the time when Joseph was distributing grain during the seven years in which “all the world came to Egypt.”
Let’s review the timeline constraints for a young-earth chronology:
1) Formation of the rock in which the caves are found occurred during the Noahic Flood 4250 year ago (roughly 2250 BC)
2) Erosion of the cavities to form the caves: post-flood (possible some erosion while below sea level but limited in scope) but no significant erosion until sea levels had dropped at least 100 to 300 feet below their present levels. This is thought to have occurred during an Ice Age that followed a global Flood. The sea levels would have been their lowest about 500 to 700 years after the Flood (i.e. around the time of Joseph’s famine.)
3) Prior to people entering the cave, large stalagmites and stalagmites formed on the roof and floors of the cave.
4) Humans begin to migrate to the New World after the event at Babel. Jeanson proposes this event at 100 years after the Flood, and other YECs place that event as much as 400 years after the Flood. (Sometime between 2150 BC and 1850 BC)
5) Humans migrated from the Middle East to North and South America. Some settled in the Yucatan peninsula, eventually entered the caves, and engaged in extensive ochre mining. At that time, they broke off stalagmites that had just previously formed prior to their entry, to use as location makers and to allow them to maneuver through tight spots.
6) During and following their use of the cave, flowstone formed over the intentionally broken stalagmites indicating the passage of even more time.
7) Humans made fires in the cave producing charcoal found in dozens of locations. Some charcoal fire pits were found to be covered with flowstone, which can only form while the cave is moist, but not flooded. This indicates the passage of time from when fire was used in the cave to when the cave was finally inundated by sea level rise.
8) YECs believe the Ice Age ended rather abruptly, at most 700 years after the Flood, causing oceans to rise to near their current level. Hence all (above water) human activity in these caves would have been brought to an end at that point.
Ochre mines and remains of humans in ancient drowned caves are powerful evidence of early migration and establishment of organized cultures in the New World. A young-earth chronology with strict limits on the first date of entry into the New World (e.g. after Babel or after Joseph’s famine) is increasingly at odds with evidence of ancient occupation of the New World.
Jeanson is faced with several choices: 1) either acknowledge that people were in the New World at the time of Joseph and continue to maintain that people from the whole world including the New World were saved by Joseph’s stocks of grain, 2) reassess and recalibrate his timeline conversion metric so that the dates for these early citizens of the New World correspond to young-earth dates younger than Joseph’s reign in Egypt, or 3) reassess his interpretation of Genesis 41 and allow all of the land to reference the Levant region.
*A caveat: Jeason might hypothesize that people migrated to the New World soon after Babel and occupied places like this cave system. But then they all died prior to the time of Joseph leaving the New World uninhabited for a time. Then there was another way of migration bringing new people into the New World. There is some evidence of replacement of original Native Americans (e.g. Clovis culture) with new migrations. However, I would respond that the Yucatan cave system is not the oldest evidence of human occupation of the New World. Furthermore, a skull found in the Yucatan cave has been analyzed as the mitochondrial DNA present in that fossil is similar to peoples that have had molecular analyses done (Chatters et al. 2014). The mitochondrial DNA was a type similar to Native Americans that are alive today. This evidence suggests a continuous habitation of peoples in this region from the end of the last Ice Age through the present.
Ardelean, C.F., Becerra-Valdivia, L., Pedersen, M.W. et al. Evidence of human occupation in Mexico around the Last Glacial Maximum. Nature (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2509-0
Chatters, James C., Douglas J. Kennett, Yemane Asmerom, Brian M. Kemp, Victor Polyak, Alberto Nava Blank, Patricia A. Beddows et al. “Late Pleistocene human skeleton and mtDNA link Paleoamericans and modern Native Americans.” science 344, no. 6185 (2014): 750-754.
Collins, S. V., E. G. Reinhardt, D. Rissolo, J. C. Chatters, A. Nava Blank, and P. Luna Erreguerena. “Reconstructing water level in Hoyo Negro, Quintana Roo, Mexico, implications for early Paleoamerican and faunal access.” Quaternary Science Reviews 124 (2015): 68-83.
de Azevedo, Soledad, Maria C. Bortolini, Sandro L. Bonatto, Tábita Hünemeier, Fabrício R. Santos, and Rolando González‐José. “Ancient remains and the first peopling of the A mericas: Reassessing the Hoyo Negro skull.” American journal of physical anthropology 158, no. 3 (2015): 514-521.
Jeanson, Nathaniel T. 2019. “Testing the Predictions of the Young-Earth Y Chromosome Molecular Clock: Population Growth Curves Confirm the Recent Origin of Human Y Chromosome Differences” Answers Research Journal 12 (December 4): 405–423.
Jeanson, Nathaniel T. 2020. Young-Earth Y Chromosome Clocks Confirm Known Post-Columbian Amerindian Population History and Suggest Pre-Columbian Population Replacement in the Americas. Answers Research Journal 12: 13-23.
MacDonald, Brandi L., James C. Chatters, Eduard G. Reinhardt, Fred Devos, Sam Meacham, Dominique Rissolo, Barry Rock et al. “Paleoindian ochre mines in the submerged caves of the Yucatán Peninsula, Quintana Roo, Mexico.” Science Advances 6, no. 27 (2020): eaba1219.
Editing provided by Michael Callen