Amber needed water (and lots of it)
Posted on homepage: 7 June 2010 (GMT+10)
Fossil amber (tree resin) has been found all over the world, containing well-preserved insects (and even identifiable microbes in the insect’s gut1), flowers, moss, snails, lizards, bird feathers and mammal hair.
Among secular scientists, who date amber fossils as mostly being from 15 million years up to 220 million years old (see ‘Dating by decree’), there has been considerable uncertainty (and disagreement) as to how amber’s contents came to be so entombed.
Most researchers had the view that resin exuded by the tree solidified at the tree bark, with organisms then getting stuck at the resin surface and subsequently enclosed by successive resin outflows.
But one problem with that scenario is that it doesn’t account for the abundant aquatic organisms found in amber, such as crustaceans, water beetles, barnacles, oysters, clams, water striders, algae and bacteria. How could aquatic creatures—both freshwater and marine—have become trapped in sticky tree sap?
Alexander Schmidt of the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, Germany, and David Dilcher from the University of Florida, USA, now believe they have the answer.2
After using a handsaw to cut bark from trees in a Florida swamp, they observed that the resulting resin flowing into the water trapped small crustaceans, water beetles, mites, aquatic bacteria and fungi.3 Therefore their research is reported to have shown that ‘aquatic insects can be trapped in resin without leaving their aquatic world. Thus the presence of aquatic organisms in amber is the result of a simple natural process.’4
Actually, cutting bark with a handsaw in a swamp is hardly an everyday ‘simple natural process’. But the results of the researchers’ ingenious field study is great news for creationists, many of whom have long mooted that amber fossils worldwide are a legacy of the Genesis Flood.5
Although Schmidt and Dilcher are staunch evolutionists, consider how their own observations and conclusions indicate that for the abundant worldwide amber fossils to have formed, conditions provided by a global catastrophic Flood were needed:
- Water delays the process of solidification and ‘amberisation’ that is normally driven by oxygen in air. Thus the resin stays stickier for longer under water, and is more likely to trap insects and other organisms. As New Scientist reported,6 resin in water is probably more of a hazard to insects than resin on tree bark.
- In Schmidt and Dilcher’s field study, the tree resin did not solidify—but they say it might have turned to solid amber if the pond water level fell and, ‘given enough protection by layers of sediment, the amber could survive intact for millions of years.’2
- But layers of sediment need to be carried in somehow, e.g. by rushing water. And indeed, Schmidt and Dilcher’s suggested scenario for amber fossil formation does invoke a flood. In their own words, once aquatic insects are trapped in the tree resin:
‘The pond then dries out in the summer, and a flood brings sediment to cover the forest floor, so the resin piece becomes well conserved [later turning into amber].’2
And of course the catastrophic global Flood would have vastly multiplied the effect of Schmidt and Dilcher’s handsaw. For example, you would expect that uprooted trees, smashing against each other in the swirling currents and waves, would lose their bark and release copious quantities of tree resin. While still fluid, the resin would have enveloped both aquatic and terrestrial organisms displaced from their usual habitat by the floodwaters.
When you consider the myriad amber fossils found worldwide,7 isn’t it obvious that lots of water was needed, right around the world—a very big flood, in other words. Genesis 6–9 describes that event—an event where it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. No wonder then that many amber fossils even contain ‘whole drops of water’2 and ‘bubbles’7,8 of air!9
Dating by decree
You could be forgiven for thinking that the dates assigned to amber fossils are a ‘done deal’ given the authoritative-sounding statements in media reports and science journals. Here are some samples from secular references cited in the main text:
- ‘We are looking back into the amber forest, 40 million years ago … ’.1
- ‘ … he found a barnacle, water tubeworms, an oyster and a clam in amber dating to 15–20 million years ago … ’.1
- ‘Schmidt says the oldest amber containing any signs of life dates to 220 million years ago … ’.1
- ‘The fossils are at least 4 million years old, they [the researchers, including University of New South Wales paleontologist Henk Godthelp] say, possibly much older.’2
However, occasionally the media will let slip a statement from the paleontologists that dating amber washed up on beaches (which is where the vast majority of amber fossils have been found) is not a ‘done deal’ at all:
‘Godthelp says it is difficult to date amber directly and the researchers are searching for the original rock deposits that would have contained the amber to date it.’2
So how would they date the ‘original rock deposits’?
Sedimentary rock is ‘dated’ according to the presence of so-called ‘index fossils’ for which the age is ‘known’. But in fact, the age is not known but assumed—on the basis of an evolutionary timeline as to when those creatures first evolved and when they became extinct.
Volcanic rock (which would not contain amber fossils but which might be in the same strata as amber-bearing sedimentary rock) is supposedly ‘dated’ according to radioactive dating methods. But in fact, the dating methods do not lead, but follow—they are always selected to agree with the ‘lead’ ideas as to the suspected (i.e. desired) age of the rocks/fossils in question.
In other words, dating by decree, not objective measure.3
References and notes
- Viegas, J., How amber becomes a death trap, ABC News in Science, <www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/2007/2054857.htm?ancient>, 9 October 2007.
- Salleh, A., Amber fossils a first for Australia, ABC Science Online, <www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/2006/1796778.htm>, 29 November 2006.
- Walker, T., How dating methods work, Creation 30(3):28–29, 2008.
References and notes
- See: Termite tummy bugs, Creation 24(3):7, 2002. Return to text.
- Viegas, J., How amber becomes a death trap, ABC News in Science, <www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/2007/2054857.htm?ancient>, 9 October 2007. Return to text.
- Schmidt, A.R. and Dilcher, D.L., Aquatic organisms as amber inclusions and examples from a modern swamp forest, PNAS, USA 104(42):16581–16585, 16 October, 2007. Return to text.
- How amber becomes death trap for watery creatures, ScienceDaily, <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071018123512.htm>, 20 October 2007. Return to text.
- See, e.g., The amber mystery, Creation 25(2): 52–53, 2003; <creation.com/amber>. Return to text.
- How pond life falls prey to killer trees, New Scientist 196(2625):21, 2007. Return to text.
- Australia had been thought to be an exception (i.e. without amber fossils), but ‘huge chunks of amber’ containing insects and plant parts have now been found along beaches in far north Queensland. Salleh, A., Amber fossils a first for Australia, ABC Science Online, <www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/2006/1796778.htm>, 29 November 2006. Return to text.
- Berner, R.A. and Landis, G.P., Gas bubbles in fossil amber as possible indicators of the major gas composition of ancient air, Science 239(4846):1406–1409, 1988. Return to text.
- I.e., likely embedded when fluid amber floating near the surface of the floodwaters was impacted by falling raindrops. As amber’s specific gravity is slightly over one, it floats in saltwater but sinks in freshwater, so insect and other material preserved in amber could have been either flotsam or settlings—or possibly borne by raindrops, in the case of microbes and very small insects. (Specific gravity is the density of a substance relative to pure water, which therefore has SG = 1 by definition.) Return to text.