A new analysis of Chinese fossils claims a Pompeii-style eruption buried them suddenly. What does this imply about dating the fossils?
The fossils of the Jehol strata, containing many dinosaurs and birds, are well known for exceptional preservation. New Scientist is one of many news sites reporting that volcanic ash may have kept the remains fresh, though burned to a crisp by pyroclastic flows. National Geographic mentions that, previously, paleontologists thought that the creatures were buried slowly in lake beds:
After analyzing fossils and sediment, Baoyu Jiang of China’s Nanjing University and his team concluded that lethal, sudden pyroclastic volcanic eruptions marked by air blasts, hot gas, and ground-hogging clouds of fine ash likely smothered, charred, and then carried forward everything in their path to create these bone beds, according to the study published in Nature Communications.
The finding explains why so many creatures would come to be buried on lake floors, and how they remained well preserved enough to retain signs of soft tissue features, such as feathers, tens of millions of years later.
Live Science mentioned Mt. St. Helens as well as Mt. Vesuvius that buried Pompeii as examples of formations rapidly created by pyroclastic flows. The article also compared the volcanic-ash hypothesis with previous ideas of flooding or settling in water:
Another possibility is that the animal bodies floated into the lake or were washed there by flooding. The researchers ruled these scenarios out, because the structure of the sediments and the intactness of the animal skeletons didn’t fit with these explanations.
Rapid burial would not take millions of years like the slow-and-gradual hypothesis of animals floating and sinking in bodies of water. The volcanic hypothesis would doom attempts to recover soft tissue, blood, or protein from specimens so buried, because the animals would have been charred by the heat. But volcanic ash would explain the fine-grained detail in soft tissue impressions characteristic of the Jehol fossils. It would also imply that the animals buried within a flow were contemporaries. “This is quite a challenge to previous views,” the BBC News remarked. The abstract in Nature Communications states:
Freshwater and terrestrial fossils of the biota usually occur together within some horizons and have been interpreted as deposits of mass mortality events. The nature of the events and the mechanisms behind the exceptional preservation of the fossils, however, are poorly understood. Here, after examining and analysing sediments and residual fossils from several key horizons, we postulate that the causal events were mainly phreatomagmatic eruptions. Pyroclastic density currents were probably responsible for the major causalities and for transporting the bulk of the terrestrial vertebrates from different habitats, such as lizards, birds, non-avian dinosaurs and mammals, into lacustrine environments for burial. Terrestrial vertebrate carcasses transported by and sealed within the pyroclastic flows were clearly preserved as exceptional fossils through this process.
Science Now’s headline says that the mystery of the Jehol fossils has been solved by the new explanation; a Pompeii researcher says the evidence “is very convincing.” Not everyone is convinced that volcanic ash explains the fossils, the other articles point out, because many fossils remain articulated rather than scattered by transport. The researchers, additionally, only analyzed a few samples. As this new hypothesis gets debated, geologists may start re-evaluating other fossil graveyards around the world.
This will be an interesting debate to watch. If confirmed, it does away with another claim of millions of years for these formations. It does away with evolution between the creatures, which were all contemporaries. To rescue their beliefs, evolutionists would be forced to claim multiple eruptions occurred in the same region millions of years apart. What will the volcano theory do to the story of feathered dinosaurs? On multiple fronts, the new hypothesis spells trouble for evolution and support for Genesis. The Flood narrative implies upheavals of the “fountains of the great deep” that undoubtedly included volcanism.
Another debate worth watching is tonight’s contest between Ken Ham and Bill Nye. Watch it on streaming video at debatelive.org at 7:00 PM Eastern. We will provide commentary tomorrow.