October 3, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

Exceptional Preservation: Can It Last Hundreds of Millions of Years?

What can happen in 460 million years?  A lot, according to the standard geological timescale.  In this diagram of geological and biological evolution, accepted by nearly all geologists, all the continents came together 260 million years ago, broke up 200 million years ago, and broke into our familiar continents 100 million years ago (mya).  In the geological time chart, it only took 40 million years for most of our modern mammals and birds to evolve, and seven million for apes to appear and turn into philosophers.
    The Earth has been a dynamic place for eons, they say.  Would delicate features of land and animal remains, estimated at nearly 500 million years old, be expected to survive global rearrangements, including planetary extinction episodes at 65 million and 251 million years ago?  If we can believe the geologists, they did.  Consider three exceptional cases of preservation reported this month in Geology, the journal of the Geological Society of America.

  1. Pristine plateau (Jurassic, 150 mya):  Jolivet et al examined the Mongolian summits, “An uplifted, flat, old but still preserved erosion surface” and described it in Geology.1  They dated the large peneplain, uplifted 4000 m, as having formed in Jurassic times – yet no erosion was evident till recently.  “Their preservation for ~150 m.y. implies that no further tectonic movements occurred before the onset of the last deformation episode, 5 +- 3 m.y. ago,” they claimed.  “It also suggests that very low erosion rates were maintained by a dry climate over millions of years.”  For that story to be credible, this one spot escaped continental movements, ice ages, tropical periods and floods for all the time since the age of dinosaurs.  The rest of the world may have been rockin’ and rollin’ but “This [preservation] was mainly achieved by the combination of a generally dry climate and a protracted period of tectonic quiescence that lasted at least 150 m.y.”
  2. Canadian soft-bodied fossils (Silurian, 425 mya):  A team from the Royal University of Ontario reported “exceptionally preserved soft-bodied biotas” of Silurian age in the same issue of Geology.2   An example of lagerstatten, or sedimentary deposits that exhibit extraordinary fossil richness or completeness (see ICR article by Bill Hoesch, Aug 2007), these deposits provide some of the best examples of intact Silurian biota ever found.  They described three sites on the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada.  Here, “Soft tissues are preserved as calcium phosphate and carbon films, the latter possibly stabilized by early diagenetic sulfurization,” they reported.  “It is significant that the biotas also include a decalcified, autochthonous shelly marine fauna, and trace fossils.”  The deposits contained “taxonomically and taphonomically diverse biotas including articulated conodont skeletons and heterostracan fish, annelids and arthropods with soft body parts, and a diverse marine flora.”  Soft tissues normally disarticulate and decay, but these three sites were so fine, they even contained the intact eyes of conodont snails.
  3. Manitoba jellyfish (Ordovician, 460 mya):  In the same issue of Geology,3 paleontologists from the Manitoba Museum described exceptionally preserved soft-bodied fossils, including “eurypterids, xiphosurids, and large problematic tubes.”  One of the sites included the best fossilized jellyfish ever seen.  “Ordovician soft-bodied fossils are remarkably rare globally,” the authors said, and one would see why: jellyfish normally decay quickly on shorelines such as this one.  “Fossils and rocks at both sites indicate rapid burial under anoxic and/or hypersaline conditions,” they concluded.

The authors of the last two articles mentioned other places in the world where similar lagerstatten are known.  Somehow, according to their thinking, these locales enjoyed peace and quiet for hundreds of millions of years while the rest of the world took a wild ride of bumping continents, glaciations, extinctions from meteor impacts and many other global catastrophes.


1.  Jolivet et al, “Mongolian summits: An uplifted, flat, old but still preserved erosion surface,” Geology, Volume 35, Issue 10 (October 2007), pp. 871�874.
2.  von Bitter, Purnell, Tetrault and Stott, “Eramosa Lagerst�tte—Exceptionally preserved soft-bodied biotas with shallow-marine shelly and bioturbating organisms (Silurian, Ontario, Canada),” Geology, Volume 35, Issue 10 (October 2007), pp. 879�882.
3.  Young et al, “Exceptionally preserved Late Ordovician biotas from Manitoba, Canada,” Geology, Volume 35, Issue 10 (October 2007), pp. 883�886.

Try to think independently and critically.  If you found these things, without the brainwashing of years of school telling you about millions and millions of years, what would you conclude?  The chart on Wikipedia is colorful, detailed and authoritative-sounding.  Do you sense a disconnect from reality?  Let the evidence speak afresh, uncluttered by human schemes devised by 18th and 19th century storytellers.
    Geology has already undergone substantial revolutions.  The geology of the 18th century (neptunism, volcanism) was unrecognizable to the 19th century, and 20th century geology was metamorphosed from its predecessors beyond recognition.  Almost everything believed about the Earth in 1901 is now discredited.  Another revolution would be merely traditional.
    What if we wiped our minds clear of the cobwebs of Lyell and Darwin, and just looked at what we find without predispositions of gradualism over eons?  Would preserved soft parts from snail eyes, jellyfish and dinosaur blood vessels (06/03/2005) lead you toward a theory resembling anything like the accepted geological column?
    It’s hard to think outside the box.  Geologists would surely balk at trashing their chart and starting over.  Why, what a waste to discard all that work!  Sorry, this is science; it is supposed to be an open-ended search for the truth whichever way the evidence leads.  There are no sacred cows in science.  Hamburger, anyone?

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Categories: Fossils

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