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Fossil Meteorites in the Geologic Record

How Good Are Those Young-Earth Arguments?
A Close Look at Dr. Hovind's List of Young-Earth Arguments and Other Claims
by Dave E. Matson
Copyright © 1994-2002

Young-earth "proof" #4: There are no fossil meteorites in the geologic record. If the latter were laid down over billions of years we would expect to find at least a few fossil meteorites in the geologic strata. Therefore, the geologic record was deposited rapidly.

Meteorites are hard enough to find on the surface of the earth when they are fresh and "obvious" -- unless one happens to know about a choice site. Search a random acre of land in the United States and see how many meteorites you can find. I suspect that you would be lucky to find a single one even if you repeated the search a thousand times on a thousand different acres.

How much more difficult it is to find a meteorite embedded in ancient strata! Most meteorites landing on the continental areas probably suffer severe erosion before eventual burial. Those which fall into the ocean may eventually be subducted with the oceanic plate into the earth's mantel or metamorphosed and thrust up in a mountain chain. The vast majority of people who drill or dig in the earth are not looking for meteorites and would not recognize one if it fell into their lap. After a little erosion, a stony meteorite looks just like any other pebble or rock; iron meteorites would likely have rusted out long ago. Thus, it would be a truly rare meteorite to survive initial erosion and chemical decomposition, to be uncovered by erosion, and, finally, to have somebody stumble upon it and identify it. If you ask yourself how many people in the world can identify an eroded, stony meteorite, you'll have some idea of the problem.

After reviewing such difficulties, geologist Davis Young (1988, p.127) tells us that, "The chances of finding a fossil meteorite in sedimentary rocks are remote. It is not to be expected." G. J. McCall, in Meteorites and Their Origins (1973, p.270), said, "The lack of fossil record of true meteorites is puzzling, but can be explained by the lack of very diagnostic shapes and the chemical nature of meteorites, which allows rapid decay..."

It may surprise you, therefore, to hear that we do have such a find! Two Swedish scientists made the first positive identification of a fossilized stony meteorite (Astronomy, June 1981). Per Thorslund and Frans Wickman reported in Nature that a 10 centimeter object found in a limestone slab from a quarry in Brunflo, central Sweden in 1952 is really a stony meteorite as demonstrated by microscopic examinations and other properties. It has a terrestrial age of about 463 million years. The object had until recently been mistaken for something else. If the odds were not bent enough, it appears that the meteorite hit an Ordovician mollusk which is fossilized in conjunction with the meteorite! (Spratt and Stephens, 1992, p.53)

In 1988 another Swedish meteorite, called "Österplana 1," was discovered in Lower Ordovician Limestone about 5 million years older and 300 miles away from the first one (Hansen and Bergström, 1997, p.1).

Twelve more meteorites have been found at the Thorsberg Limestone Quarry in Sweden:

A 10-foot-thick section of the Holen ("Orthoceratite") Limestone, of Early Middle Ordovician age, is extracted at the Thorsberg quarry and sawed into thin slabs that are used for window sills and floor tile. Quarry workers discarded slabs with impurities, such as the meteorites, until Professor Maurits Lindström of the University of Stockhom alerted them to save such slabs. The 12 specimens were recovered between 1992 and 1996. Ten of the specimens were recovered from a 2-foot-thick bed of limestone and may represent a single meteorite fall. The other three specimens were recovered from two separate levels above this layer. Seven of the specimens, collected between 1993 and 1996, are from a quarried limestone volume of no more than about 127,000 cubic feet. Most of the specimens are now on display at the Stiftelsen Paleo Geology Center in Lidköping, Sweden. ... The dark, reddish brown meteorite masses [from 0.5 to 3.5 inches in diameter] look like iron nodules surrounded by a zone of lighter colored limestone and would be mistaken by many people for common sedimentary features.

(Hansen and Bergström, 1997, p.3)

In 1997 a research team from the University of Göteborg found 17 meteorites buried 480 million years ago at Kinnekulle in Sweden! It was mentioned in the news program "Dagens Eko" by Birger Schmitz of the research team. Sweden seems to be the place to go for fossil meteorites!

In 1930 a fist-sized piece of Eocene nickel-iron was said to have been recovered from a bore hole at a depth of 1,525 feet. This "Zapata County" Texas iron has since been lost (Nature, January 22, 1981).

Fritz Heide mentioned that "The iron of Sardis, Burke County, Georgia, was found in 1940, in strata believed to be of Middle Miocene age." (Heide, 1964, pp.118-119.)

Glenn Morton informs us that:

James M. Barnett determined the sedimentation rate of Silurian salt (circa 400 million years old) from the Michigan basin by studying the micrometeorites found in the salt [Barnett, 1983]. One would expect to find such material in an evaporative basin open to the air but not in salt formed in other fashions.

Why would God create pollen, fungal spores and micrometeorites with the salt? If God did this one would be able to charge him with deception - making a created salt deposit look like an evaporative one.

(Morton, 1995, p.17)

Not only do we have buried micrometeorites here, but we have a problem for Noah's flood. If it is, indeed, responsible for laying down most of the geologic column, as claimed by Henry Morris and others, then how do we explain this evaporative salt deposit? Did the flood poop out in its early stages and give way to a prolonged dry spell before resuming?

We may conclude, therefore, that it is not true that fossil meteorites don't exist in the geologic record. An extensive, systematic search in the right areas will likely produce results. However, recovering and identifying them is extremely rare in practice.

A much stronger test of this creationist argument is to look for the remains of giant meteorite impacts. Their craters might not be a snap to identify, due to erosion and burial, but we can at least expect to find a number of them if the geologic column is truly ancient. Thus, we have a definitive test between the two viewpoints. If the earth's geologic record is the result of many hundreds of millions of years of slow accumulation, then we would expect a fair number of "fossil" meteorite craters in all the major strata. On the other hand, if the geologic column was laid down in a mere year by Noah's flood, then it would be extremely unlikely to find even one "fossil" crater.

Well, I won't keep you in suspense. The geologic record contains at least 130 positively identified "fossil" craters. They are preserved in all the major strata from the Precambrian (2 billion years ago) to Recent times. Except for Chicxulub, the following partial list is from R. A. F. Grieve and P. B. Robertson (1979). More fossil craters have since been found, but a portion of their 1979 list will do just fine. With one exception, all of those listed are larger than Meteor Crater in Arizona. Lovely maps showing the known fossil crater sites, and even photographs, may be found on the Internet (The Earth Impact Database).

Only within the last 25 years or so has it been possible to positively identify fossil impact craters. Thus, one should check the date on quoted materials. Usually, a positive identification of an impact crater is based on several clues that, taken together, make an airtight case. Here are some of those clues which geologists look for:

  1. An impact crater, such as Arizona's Meteor Crater, may exhibit a reverse order of the strata making up the rim. That is, some of the strata gets flipped back and over to form the rim. Unfortunately, erosion will usually have erased such evidence.
  2. Material thrown out by the impact may still be around. An example is Ries Crater in southern Germany, which is 26 kilometers (16 miles) in diameter. A blanket of ejected material up to 100 meters in depth surrounds a roughly circular lake (Davies, 1986, p.
  3. Shatter cones may be present. They are structures in which closely spaced fractures flare outward and downward from the apex of a cone. Sometimes many shatter cones are aligned so as to point towards the probable center of impact. These cone-shaped rocks are sometimes mistaken for fossils by amateurs!
  4. Thin sections of rock may, under microscopic examination with plain and polarized light, reveal small droplets of melted material or other unusual structures. X-ray crystallography may show that the normal crystalline structure has been altered or broken down.
  5. Another important clue is the presence of igneous rocks that have recrystallized after having been melted by sudden impact. Oddly placed glass is another solid clue. At the Chicxulub site glassy material suddenly appears in the limestone at a certain depth along with shattered rock.
  6. The presence of greatly compressed forms of quartz (such as coesite and stishovite), which can be created only by high temperatures and pressures, is a very strong indicator of an impact site. The formation of coesite requires more than 30,000 atmospheres of pressure, and stishovite requires over 100,000 atmospheres of pressure (George Wetherill, 1979, p. 59). They have been found in the vicinity of many impact craters. There are a variety of such minerals, known as impactites, which are associated with ancient craters.
  7. In a few cases meteorite fragments are found associated with the crater.

These and other clues, often found together, have ruled out the usual geologic alternatives such as old volcanic craters, natural basins, etc.

The Geologic ColumnLocation of CraterMillions of Years
PrecambrianVredefort, South Africa1970.  
PrecambrianSudbury, Ontario, Canada1840.  
PrecambrianJänisjärvi, Russia 700.  
CambrianKelly West, N.T., Australia 550.  
CambrianHolleford, Ontario, Canada 550.  
CambrianKjardla, Estonia 500.  
OrdovicianSääksjärvi, Finland 490.  
OrdovicianCarswell, Saskatchewan, Canada 485.  
OrdovicianBrent, Ontario, Canada 450.  
SilurianLac Couture, Quebec, Canada 420.  
SilurianLac La Moinerie, Quebec, Canada 400.  
DevonianSiljan, Sweden 365.  
DevonianCharlevoix, Quebec, Canada 360.  
DevonianFlynn Creek, Tennessee, USA 360.  
CarboniferousCrooked Creek, Missouri, USA 320.  
CarboniferousMiddlesboro, Kentucky, USA 300.  
CarboniferousSerpent Mound, Ohio, USA 300.  
PermianKursk, Russia 250.  
PermianDellen, Sweden 230.  
PermianSt. Martin, Manitoba, Canada 225.  
TriassicManicouagan, Quebec, Canada 210.  
TriassicRedwing Creek, North Dakota, USA 200.  
JurassicVepriaj, Lithuania 160.  
JurassicRochechouart, France 160.  
JurassicStrangways, N.T., Australia 150.  
CretaceousSierra Madre, Texas, USA 100.  
CretaceousRotmistrovka, Ukraine  70.  
CretaceousChicxulub, Yucatan, Mexico  65.  
PaleoceneKara, Russia  57.  
OligoceneMistastin, Labrador, Canada  38.  
OligoceneWanapitei L., Ontario, Canada  38.  
MioceneHaughton Dome, N.W.T., Canada  15.  
MioceneKarla, Russia  10.  
PlioceneNew Quebec Crater, New Quebec, Canada   5.  
PlioceneAouelloul, Mauritania   3.1 
PleistoceneBosumtwi, Ghana   1.3 
PleistoceneLonar, India   0.05

As you can see, plenty of impact craters have been detected throughout the geologic column, from the Cambrian to recent times. Eleven have been found in the Precambrian. Of those, six are about a billion years or more old. Traditional geology stands vindicated. Obviously, the major strata of the geologic column have been laid down over the ages. Those ages have seen the impact of many large asteroids, each one a rare event.

Major impacts are obviously rare. None have occurred during recorded history. (The Tunguska impact in Russia, believed to be caused by a stony asteroid, was just a minor flash in the pan compared to the crater-makers we are talking about. Meteor Crater, Arizona, is probably the freshest "big" crater around, and it happened some 50,000 years ago.) Therefore, creationists must conjure up a miraculous swarm of asteroids which decide to drop in on Earth throughout the year of Noah's flood. They fall here and there without destroying the ark with huge waves or blast effects far exceeding that of any atomic bomb. After the flood dries up, this bunch of asteroids, which had been steadily bombarding the earth and creating miraculous numbers of craters, suddenly decides to pack up and go home. Thus, history knows of not one large impact in the thousands of years since that one, magical year. Sounds a little like a creationist fairy tale, doesn't it?

The geologic column stands vindicated. It wins hands down!

While we're on the subject of asteroid impacts, let me point out another fatal problem for the young-earth scenario. A casual inspection of the cratered surfaces of Mars, the Moon, and Mercury, not to mention most of the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, make it intuitively obvious that a lot of enormous asteroids were once flying around our solar system. It would be plain silly to think that Earth escaped untouched while everything around it was plastered with craters. Unlike the Moon and Mercury, and to some extent, Mars, those early craters on Earth have not been preserved. Various geological processes such as weathering and plate tectonics have long ago erased them.

That the earth partook in this early massive bombardment is made even clearer by the use of statistics.

Start with the oldest parts of the Moon, and imagine counting up the number of craters of different diameters. On the Moon, you find that when you go down a factor of ten in crater size, the craters become more common by about a factor of a hundred. Of course this rule isn't perfect, and some crater sizes are present in greater or lesser number than this simple rule leads you to expect.

Now play the same game with craters on the ancient terrain of Mars, or on Mercury, and what do you find? Not only do you find the same overall relationship between crater number and crater size, but those particular sizes that broke the rule on the Moon break the rule to about the same extent on Mars and Mercury as well. A common interpretation of this similarity in bombardment records is that all these worlds were cratered by the same population of objects... But if Mars, Mercury, and the Moon were all pummeled by the same population of impacting objects during the heavy bombardment, Earth and Venus must have been as well.

(Chyba, 1992, p.31)

What does all this mean? It means that the above list of craters represent just the leftovers from the BIG DINNER!

Any one of the largest impacts would have produced a short lived global atmosphere composed of rock vapor, temporarily raising the temperature of Earth's surface to above that of the inside of an oven. In the most extreme cases, this searing heat would have lasted long enough to have evaporated the entire ocean, sterilizing the surface of the Earth.

Scientists can use the bombardment record on the Moon to estimate just how often this level of destruction took place. Statistically, because of Earth's larger gravity, something like 17 or so objects larger than the largest object that hit the Moon should have collided with Earth. If the largest object that impacted the Moon was the one responsible for the 2,500-km-diameter South Pole-Aitken basin on the lunar farside (whose controversial existence was finally confirmed two years ago by the Galileo spacecraft), Earth was probably hit about five times by asteroids or comets big enough to have completely vaporized its oceans. [A number of scientists now believe that life originated several times on the primeval earth, only to be wiped out in its first few attempts by the above impacts! -- D.M.]

(Chyba, 1992, pp.32-33)

Creationists just haven't come to grips with the tremendous beating that the early Earth took from asteroids. Most of that evidence has been destroyed on Earth and Venus by geological activity, but much of it can still be seen on the Moon, Mercury, and the older portions of Mars. A similar bombardment hammered the outer solar system, leaving its marks on many of the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Evidence indicates that one or two of those moons were actually blown apart, their pieces slowly coalescing again through gravity! The early solar system was a violent place, and it took more than a few days for it to settle down!

The heavy bombardment period ended about 3.8 billion years ago. By creationist reckoning, that places it before Noah's flood and after the creation of the earth. Poor, old Noah would not even have had the privilege of being blasted out of the water! The ocean, itself, would have boiled away before he ever got started! Noah, along with the antediluvian population, would have had the dubious privilege of breathing hot rock vapor! The impacting asteroids probably melted a large part of the earth's surface. Nobody would have been left alive for God to punish!

If the above facts are not grim enough for you, there is good evidence that Earth, very early on, collided with a protoplanet the size of Mars! (Kaufmann, 1994, pp. 172-176; Chaisson and McMillan, 1993, p.184). Such a collision is the only credible explanation we have for the origin of the moon! Supercomputer studies by Benz, Slattery, and Cameron show that some of the material thrown out by a glancing blow from this Mars-sized protoplanet would regroup to form the moon.

The collisional ejection theory is in agreement with many of the known facts about the Moon. For example, rock vaporized by the impact would have been depleted of volatile elements and water, leaving the moon rocks we now know. If the collision took place after chemical differentiation had occurred on Earth, when our planet's iron sunk to its center, then relatively little iron would have been ejected, which would account for the Moon's small iron-rich core.

(Kaufmann, 1994, p. 173)

Maybe that's why Earth is tilted so, though we must be careful about assuming, a priori, that a planet's tilt is a permanent feature in need of a specific explanation. (It might, for example, be unstable over long periods of time.)

We already have Noah and the antediluvians breathing hot rock vapor in an oceanless world with a semi-molten surface, due to the heavy bombardment of asteroids. We now find that they had been living on a planet which quite probably had been blasted to its very core in a planetary collision! God puts Noah to a lot of trouble to build the ark, so that he and the animals might survive a worldwide flood. Funny, the flood was the least of Noah's problems! What Noah really needed was a spaceship and an early ticket out of there!

Looks like it's miracle time again for those "scientific" creationists. Once you start with a young Earth, you are committed to squeezing everything into a small time frame. Some things, such as the heavy asteroid bombardment and Earth's probable collision with a protoplanet, don't squeeze very well! How long does it take a moon to form from scratch, anyway?

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