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What every school student should know about fossil

17th September 2004

Much of the summer months were spent walking along the beaches of East Devon and Dorset, looking at the cliffs and searching for fossils on the shore from Seaton to Lyme Regis, and Charmouth and beyond. This coastline has recently been added to the World Heritage List and is ideal for fossil hunting.[i] Lyme Regis too was where Mary Anning lived, and where she found some fascinating marine reptiles including the Ichthyosaur and Plesiosaur and even the flying Pterodactyl. Sadly I have not found any reptiles yet, but I did find a lovely big ammonite encased in a large pebble, and spent many evenings slowly chipping it out. On one occasion my niece and nephew came with me, and found more and bigger fossils than I had found in three weeks!

There are numerous belemnites on the beach as well, and even some fairly large specimens. These bullet shaped fossils are in fact the internal shells of the squid like cuttlefish. There was a fair amount of fossilised wood on the beach as well, even a log with tree rings visible, encased in several broken nodules too big to carry.

Fossil wood

Left: Fossilised wood encased in limestone, found on beach near Lyme Regis Summer 2004.

Other known findings from this coast include fish, shells, and even large dragonflies have been found.[ii] There are also delicate crinoids, lobsters and starfish, and there is also a photo of a fossil flat fish draped across a log along with several ammonites all on one piece of rock, as found by a local collector.[iii]

That really builds up a picture of the fossil evidence found in the rock layers, observed from the beach and cliffs. A simple study shows that there is plenty of evidence that the rock layers were laid down suddenly under catastrophic conditions because otherwise many of these fossilised animals would have rotted away or have been eaten before burial if they had to lie there for millions of years! How else can we explain squid, wood, fish, ammonites, dragonflies, and lobsters all buried together in thick layers? Some may object and say that the sea bottom was devoid of oxygen to preserve fossils, but the presence of bottom living creatures such as crinoids and lobsters suggests that the sea floor was fully oxygenated and rich in life. If the sea became poisonous for life because of loss of oxygen, a major event must have caused it.

The layers of rock all conform to the same pattern being laid one on top the other as one much deeper layer of sediment gently sloping to the east. All the layers of rock would therefore have been laid together in a fairly short period of time, or else the layers would not conform to the same pattern. Otherwise for instance we would find layers cut through by ancient valleys, but ancient valleys are not seen in these rock layers only the present day valleys. Fossils appear as fully formed creatures, and many examples of species found are still alive today.

However, when we watch the TV, or listen to teachers, and read school text books we may learn that the fossils were buried over hundred of millions of years, as layers were laid down millimetre upon millimetre through vast periods of time. It is claimed that mountains and valleys were formed and lost in those vast periods of time as the climate changed from swamp to desert and back again. This follows Charles Darwin’s classic evolution theory, which required rocks to be laid down slowly as suggested by his friend Charles Lyell. However other friends of Darwin such as Thomas Huxley disagreed because they too recognised the catastrophes in the rock layers and that fossils were buried suddenly. They believed in many catastrophes over hundreds of millions of years, with evolution occurring by rapid jumps. Richard Owen, the leading anatomist who lived at the same time as Darwin, in fact rejected evolution because he saw animals perfectly designed for life in their own place. However Darwin objected to this more obvious interpretation of the evidence from fossils and rocks because it violated his gradual theory of natural selection. He seemed to ignore facts to protect his beloved theory.

So when we open textbooks or listen to TV presenters today we find Darwin’s classic theory explained carefully together with a false interpretation of evidence from fossils and rock layers. We are all taught stuff on TV and in school text books that is simply not true, nor possible, and it is presented as science! Many scientists also know this interpretation of evidence is not true, but they are ignored because it violates the classic theory of evolution. This is a sad state of affairs indeed. All through the rock layers there is no change in complexity from the trilobites in the Cambrian layers, to the belemnites in the Jurassic, to modern day squid. No evidence of a grand progression of life at all. All the fossils appear suddenly as if buried in a catastrophic flood of global proportions. Now where do we read about such a flood?

If anyone is interested in fossil hunting in Dorset for themselves, the best place to go is Charmouth or Lyme Regis, but you will need to walk a fair way, to where fewer people go. Under Golden Cap is especially good, but it requires a long walk. However, make sure to go as the tide is going out, and don’t get too close to the high cliffs where rock falls may occur. The best fossils are always found on the beach. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[i] See for instance: Dorset County Council, Devon County Council, and Dorset Coasts Forum, Nomination of the Dorset and East Devon Coast for inclusion in the World Heritage List, 2000.

[ii] The CSM Genesis Expo on The Hard, Portsmouth, England has an example of a dragonfly fossil.

[iii] See note 1, p55.

This message was added on Thursday 4th August 2005

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