This article is from
Creation 34(2):28–31, April 2012

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Dinosaur disarray

Evidence for the Flood at Dinosaur National Monument, USA


Image composite: sxc.hu, ©iStockPhoto.com/Syldavia, ©iStockPhoto.com/milky, ©iStockPhoto.com/Nature247 & T Newcombe dinosaur-disarray

At Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, a confused tangle of bones juts from a ridge of sandstone, chock-full of dinosaur fossils. The sandstone is part of the Morrison Formation, a body of sedimentary rock extending from New Mexico to Saskatchewan in the north and covering more than 1 million square kilometres (400,000 square miles) of the western US and Canada. Eleven different species of dinosaur have been dug from the quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, including one of the largest and most complete skeletons of a giant Apatosaurus ever found.

The dinosaur bones are concentrated in an extensive lens-shaped bed of rock and are an outstanding example of a ‘mass burial’ deposit.1,2 Dinosaur National Monument has been called “the greatest dinosaur quarry ever discovered”, and is the most fertile source of dinosaur fossils in North America.3 For decades, visitors to this spectacular site were told that the fossils represent generations of dinosaurs that lived and died within a peaceful swamp environment some 150 million years ago.4 But geologists now realise that the remains did not accumulate that way. So how did the bones get there, and what do they tell us?

The slow-and-gradual explanation

The prevalent belief among secular geologists is that the geological processes we observe in nature today are responsible for many of the geologic formations we see in the ancient rock record. It’s called uniformitarianism, or “the present is the key to the past”. This belief results in the view that, on the current slow-and-gradual rates of sedimentation, you would expect millions of years to elapse while the observed depth of sediments accumulated in a low-energy environment. Uniformitarians started with the assumption of slow-and-gradual geologic processes, born of their philosophy which, from its beginnings, sought to “free the science from Moses”.5

Having abandoned a peaceful interpretation for Dinosaur National Monument, yet committed to rejecting the historical Flood recorded in the Bible, uniformitarian geologists stayed true to their worldview and retained an interpretation that needed millions of years of slow deposition. They now say that the dinosaurs were overwhelmed and buried by a series of floods. Not by the global Flood of Noah, but by much smaller local floods separated by long time periods. They believe that every time an area flooded, the dinosaur remains were deposited in the same location, slowly building up the sizable collection.3 Alternatively, some scientists speculate that the fossils represent the cumulative result of many droughts as the dinosaurs congregated and died around ever-diminishing waterholes.6 But this scenario also requires flooding to try to explain the subsequent burial.

Photo by Michael Rissi(CC-BY-SA) Green-river-canyon
Green River Canyon in Dinosaur National Monument

The plot thickens: volcanic activity associated with rapid watery burial

The idea of many local floods might at first seem a possibility. However, a notable feature of the water-worked sandstone in which the dinosaur bones are entombed complicates the picture for uniformitarians—these rocks contain abundant grains of a rock called ‘tuff’. Tuff forms from the solidification of hot ash ejected from volcanoes. This, and layers of volcanic ash elsewhere in the formation,7 indicate that an explosive volcanic eruption occurred at much the same time as all the dinosaur remains were buried by flooding. No volcano is known in the vicinity of the deposit, and geologists have placed the nearest source for the tuff to vents in southern California or Nevada.4 Ash clouds depositing over such considerable distances point to an extremely catastrophic volcanic event.

The coincidence of floods and eruptions happening together on multiple occasions, over vast spans of time, stretches the credibility of the uniformitarian ‘just so’ story. Also, if millions of years had indeed gone by as the uniformitarians assert, the geomorphology or ‘shape’ of the land surface would have changed in all that time. We know that rivers can alter their position and shape over the centuries, as their banks are eroded and sediment is deposited. For the multiple-flood/multiple-drought scenarios to be true it would mean that the drainage pattern over a very wide area would remain unchanged over eons of time, such that animal remains were accumulated in exactly the same location over and over again. This is unlikely.

Photo by US National Park Service Allosaurus
Allosaurus jimmadseni fossil, Dinosaur National Monument

Added to this, the fact that fossilization occurred at all indicates that the animals were quickly and deeply buried in sediment infused with mineral-rich fluids, either during death or not long afterwards.8 The bodies of dinosaurs that had drowned in localized floods would be scavenged and rot, bones and all, long before a sufficient thickness of sediment had covered them. After all, we do not today find the accumulated bones of herd animals such as cattle slowly fossilizing under the mud of river banks and floodplains emplaced by local floods. We do not even find small animals fossilizing. Fossilization today is a rare event, requiring special conditions.

Complete skeletons mixed in with bits and pieces

The evidence gets even more problematic for uniformitarians. Some of the fossils at Dinosaur National Monument are found as nearly-complete skeletons, fully articulated, and still in the opisthotonic or ‘dead dinosaur’ posture.9 Others are found in a disarticulated (dismembered) state.4 The presence of near-perfect whole remains further detracts from the long-ages multiple-flood theory, as the chance of unfossilized dinosaur skeletons surviving in articulated condition over eons of time, while awaiting deep burial, is vanishingly small. Soft connective tissue joining bone to bone rapidly breaks down once rotting of the carcass begins.

The alternative long-age drought scenario also involves, by definition, long periods of time between events. The enduring image of drought—broken-down animal skeletons baking in the sun—is common knowledge. It is well-known that degradation of the carcass begins just days after death, as scavengers, microbes, and full exposure to the heat and the elements take their toll. The accumulation of the degraded skeletal remains by later flood waters would further ‘mix’ things. And, as in the multiple flood interpretation, we do not observe drought remains fossilizing today.

The evidence indicates that the dinosaur remains were quickly and deeply entombed in sediments deposited by water. It is highly unlikely that either the multiple-flood or the multiple-drought interpretation would result in dinosaurs being fossilized in rock as we find them at Dinosaur National Monument. On the other hand, a global-scale flood, such as the Flood of Noah recorded in the book of Genesis, with its associated volcanic activity, is a likely candidate. But under this scenario, how can the dismembered remains mixed up with whole, articulated skeletons be explained?

Likely effects of a single, enormous flood

Noah’s Flood probably began in many places as a series of powerful, chaotic surges or tsunamis across land areas, bigger than modern-day tsunamis.10 While many animals would have perished immediately, the higher hills would have allowed a few animals to survive the very beginnings of the Flood. Dinosaurs in lower areas that somehow managed to survive the first surges would have swum around until they found refuge on temporary sandbar type deposits and piled-up debris. Tectonic uplift and folding and faulting may also have provided temporary higher areas. In such cases, patches of shallow water and even dry land would have formed briefly from newly-deposited sediments.11

The time between increasingly deeper surges may have been prolonged in some areas, extending into many days or weeks depending on local tectonic factors. This was enough time for animals that died in the initial onslaught to rot. The remains may then have been ‘reworked’ (buried, eroded, and re-buried), possibly several times if multiple surges occurred, being abraded and jumbled-up in the process. Impact with uprooted trees would also break up the bodies. The surviving dinosaurs would eventually succumb as still-higher flood surges arrived. With the water level totally overwhelming even the highest areas, dismembered, rotted carcasses and whole dinosaurs would be swept along together in strong currents and buried under sediment. Vast volumes of moving water would have a powerful sorting effect on the different types and sizes of debris. Still deeper amounts of sediment would then be deposited over the top as the continental mass continued to subside.12

In fact, the Genesis record correlates well with what is seen at Dinosaur National Monument. The dinosaur bones are found with other fossils, including wooden logs, which have the appearance of having been sorted by water. A few of the dinosaurs appear to have “drowned and been buried on the spot”,3 while many of the dismembered remains look as if they have been “churned up”.13 The texture of the sandstone ‘matrix’ (the surrounding rock) in which the dinosaur bones are found suggests the sorts of catastrophic floods and mudflows that were observed on a much smaller scale during the Mount St. Helens eruption of May 1980. There is also a distinct rarity of fossil plants and soil preserved within the deposits. All of this evidence suggests that the remains were part of a mass-assemblage transported and sorted by water.4

Moses was right, all along

The new uniformitarian views entail belief in many local floods emplacing animals in the same location each time, with identical volcanic eruptions of exceptionally violent extent ‘just so happening’ to occur each time the fossil remains were being deposited. They also require belief in animals fossilizing in situations where they are not observed to fossilize today. Further complicating such interpretations is the presence of whole, articulated skeletons. A more sensible and elegant interpretation, one that makes sense of all the evidence, is that the animals at Dinosaur National Monument were killed and buried by massive water action operating as a single, yet multi-stage, event.

A straightforward reading of the book of Genesis makes plain that dinosaurs were created alongside man (Genesis 1:24–31), and that those not on board the Ark were destroyed in a calamity that engulfed the world (Genesis 7:21–23). The year-long deluge began when the “fountains of the great deep” were opened, and was thus likely associated with volcanic activity. The Morrison Formation, covering several states of North America, and of which Dinosaur National Monument is a part, reveals an enormous magnitude of watery deposition. It represents just another piece in the geological puzzle that, together with many others all around the world, comes together to spell: global Flood.

Posted on homepage: 14 September 2013

References and notes

  1. A ‘lens’ in geology refers to a body of rock that is thick in the middle and thin at the edges. The fossil-rich lens of sandstone at the dinosaur quarry is in steeply dipping strata. It outcrops for 1 km (3000 ft) and is 15 m (50 ft) thick in places. Return to text.
  2. A new visitor centre and hall have been built at the site, allowing tourists to view exhibits and the quarry where thousands of large fossil bones have been excavated. The recently-refurbished buildings were reopened in October 2011. Return to text.
  3. Graham, J., Dinosaur National Monument Geologic Resource Evaluation Report, Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR—2006/008 NPS D-217, March 2006. Return to text.
  4. Hoesch, W.A. and Austin, S.A., Dinosaur National Monument: Jurassic Park or Jurassic Jumble? Impact 370, April 2004. Return to text.
  5. Catchpoole, D. and Walker, T., Charles Lyell’s hidden agenda to free science from Moses , creation.com/lyell, 19 August 2009. Return to text.
  6. Turner, C.E. and Peterson, F., Reconstruction of the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation extinct ecosystem—a synthesis, Sedimentary Geology 167: 309–355, 2004. Return to text.
  7. Flesch, G.A., Stratigraphy and Sedimentology of the Morrison Formation (Jurassic), Ojito Spring Quadrangle, Sandoval County, New Mexico: A Preliminary Discussion, New Mexico Geol. Soc. Guidebook, 25th Field Conf., 1974. Return to text.
  8. Oard, M.J., Dinosaur Challenges and Mysteries, Creation Book Publishers, USA, p. 61, 2011. Return to text.
  9. Catchpoole, D., Death throes, Creation 31(3):42–44, 2009, creation.com/death-throes. Return to text.
  10. The Ark’s safe passage was partially dependent on a more gradual or at least manageable arrival of the Flood waters at the embarkation point. Not all locations would therefore have experienced a violent tsunami-like effect—at least at the beginning. Once afloat and over deep water, the Ark would be relatively safe from the effects of tsunamis, because they rise to great height only in shallow water. Return to text.
  11. There appears to be corroborating evidence for this in dinosaur tracks made in damp or partially-submerged, fresh sediment, and also dinosaur eggs laid on wet sediments during the early stages of the Flood. See for example the BEDS hypothesis in Oard, M.J., Dinosaur Challenges and Mysteries, Creation Book Publishers, USA, 2011. Return to text.
  12. This interpretation of early Flood events is based on Tas Walker’s Flood model. See Walker, T., A biblical geologic model, in: Walsh, R.E., Ed., Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, Creation Science Fellowship, pp 581–592, 1994. Return to text.
  13. Paleontologist Earl Douglass, discoverer of the dinosaur quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, made this comment in his diary in 1909 after beginning excavations at the site. See nps.gov/dino/historyculture/douglass.htm. Return to text.

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