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Fossilization requires sudden burial (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Fossilization requires sudden burial (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CC363 :

Fossilization requires rapid burial, or the organism will decay. This suggests that a catastrophe is responsible for fossils.


  • Whitcomb, John C. Jr. and Henry M. Morris, 1961. The Genesis Flood. Philadephia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., pp. 128-129.

CreationWiki response:

Actual quote from The Genesis Flood:

"The only way they can be preserved long enough from the usual processes of decay, scavenging and disintegration is by means of quick burial in aqueous sediments."

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

1. Bones can survive for over a year before being buried. Shells can last decades or even centuries. ... Only soft tissues need to be preserved quickly.

  1. The problem is not the decay of bones and shells but of the soft tissue that holds them together. Many vertebrate fossils are found with the bones still together, if an animal is buried rapidly after the soft tissue decays the ground holds them together.
  2. Decay is not the only problem with a slow burial model, but scavengers. When scavengers eat an animal they tend to tear it apart and scatter and even destroy the bones. Dead animals left out in the open tend to disappear; bones and all within days.

In fact, some fossils that have been eroded or encrusted or bored by other animals have been found, showing that long times passed before they were buried, and discrediting catastrophic burial.

Talk Origins is confusing rapid burial with instantaneous burial. While many of the animals killed by Noah's Flood were buried instantaneously and alive not all were. Furthermore creationists recognize that some fossils are post Flood. However there are several ways that such fossil are consistent with rapid burial.

  • Eroded fossils.
    • During the Flood some animals simply drowned, any such animal stuck among flowing debris would have had its flesh quickly removed and its bones eroded, no long period is needed--the animal could have been buried with in hours of death.
  • Encrusted fossils.
    • During the Flood some animals simply drowned, any such animal stuck among flowing debris would have had its flesh quickly removed and in some cases the fossil would be encrusted by surrounding debris, no long period is needed--the animal could have been buried with in hours of death.
  • Fossils bored by other animals.
    • Some corpses could have been partly scavenged if they died among still living animals only to be buried shortly there after by Flood sediment.
    • Another possibility is misinterpretation, that is the animal was bored by some other means such as a sharp peace of debris, possibly even a tooth or a claw shortly before being quickly buried.

2. Rapid burial is not necessary for rapid preservation. Fossils can also be preserved by falling in a peat bog or on an anoxic lake bottom, areas where decay is slow or nonexistent. Other fossils are preserved in tree sap, which can become amber over time.

Rapid preservation is not all that is needed for fossilization, but mineralization as well.

  • While well preserved copses have been found in peat bogs they have been mummified not fossilized and that is not what is observed in the fossil record.
  • While anoxic lake bottom can preserve a dead animal there seems to be no evidence that they produce fossils like what is found in the fossil record. For example the fish found in the Green River Formation have been flattened between two of the thin layers, which would be expected if such fish were buried rapidly, but fossilization is fast enough that if the layer built up at one layer per year there fish would have been fossilized before being buried deep enough to be flattened by the weight of sediment on top of them.
  • While amber does produce fossils, it is actually a form of rapid burial since the animals seem to have been covered while still alive. Also amber is not typical of the fossil record, most fossils are imprints, castings, and mineralization in rock not amber.

3. Rapid burial is common as a result of processes that are local catastrophes or that can scarcely be considered catastrophes at all, such as

  • burial in sediments in a river delta
  • burial in sediments from a local river flood
  • burial in a small landslide, as along an eroded stream bank
  • burial in ash from a volcano
  • burial in a blown sand dune

While true, none of them produce any thing like the large scales fossil grave yards found in the fossil record.

4. Patterns of fossilization are consistent with noncatastrophic processes such as those mentioned above. Fossilization occurs as a result of all those different processes, not as a result of a single catastrophe. And it occurs where we would expect on the basis of commonplace processes. Bison fossils, for example, are found in active floodplains, not in upland areas.

In some cases they do follow such patterns but not always. The example of Bison fossils, being found in active floodplains, would be considered an example of post Flood fossilization by most Creationists. The Genesis Flood was published in 1961, and as happens so often in science some of its material is out of date and this is one of them. Creationists have long recognized that some fossils are post Flood and the example of Bison fossils is one of them. It needs to be noted that fossil fish, mollusks and dinosaurs are found on high ground.

Related References