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Creation 12(1):38–39, December 1989

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Editor’s note: As Creation magazine has been continuously published since 1978, we are publishing some of the articles from the archives for historical interest, such as this. For teaching and sharing purposes, readers are advised to supplement these historic articles with more up-to-date ones suggested in the Related Articles and Further Reading below.

Fossil pollen in Grand Canyon overturns plant evolution


Finding fossil pollen grains in rock classed as ‘Precambrian’ (long before seed plants are thought to have evolved) is as devastating to the whole evolutionary framework as finding a human bone in a Carboniferous coal seam. Geologist Dr Clifford Burdick, a creationist, was the first to report finding fossil pollen grains of seed plants in the so-called Hakatai Shale, a layer of the Grand Canyon classified as ‘Precambrian’.1,2 These findings have been challenged by Dr A. Chadwick, another creationist, and others as possibly due to contamination from the atmosphere.3,4

A research team of scientists from the Creation Research Society in the United States initiated a project to settle the question. They took several samples from the Hakatai Shale, and also from the so-called Supai Formation and Hermit Shale layers.

At each sample site, the first three to four inches (7.5 to 10 centimetres) of exposed rock was chipped off, to avoid any surface contamination (the pores in the rock are in any case too fine to allow pollen to penetrate to any significant depth). Then the rock beneath was sampled, taking care to avoid any cracks and fissures. The team opened previously sealed, sterile plastic bags just long enough to allow freshly flaked-off rock to drop in. They quickly resealed them. In addition, the collection was done in winter, with snow at the canyon top and all shrubs and trees dormant.

Great care was taken in the laboratory to avoid contamination. In addition, control experiments were performed in which, among other things, slides were exposed to the air in various actively used laboratories for a total of some 400 slide-exposure-days. Each slide was exposed for between seven and 57 days. In that time, only three possible pollen grains appeared on the exposed slides, although there were many other contaminants found - fungal spores, plant hairs, epitheleal cells (skin tissue), and even cells resembling blood cells. Thus, the chances of pollen from the air falling on to the slides in the short time they were exposed during preparation were extremely small.

The Results

From the nine samples taken (three from each formation), 43 slides were made. Sixteen of these showed the pollen of seed plants and/or cells of cryptograms (spore-bearing plants; a fern, moss or fungus is a cryptogram).

Identification was assisted by the independent assessments of a professional palynologist (someone who studies pollen) who did not know that the specimens came from ‘Precambrian’ rock.

The accompanying photo shows just one of the finds. Interestingly, all the pollen was found in the Hakatai Shale specimens. One would expect air-borne contamination to have an equal chance of contaminating specimens from all three layers.


The weight of evidence favours the conclusion that fossil pollen is contained in ‘Precambrian’ shale. This is contrary to expectations based on the accepted geological column.


Anyone interested in this research is encouraged to read the three recent reports in the Creation Research Society Quarterly.

  • Howe, G.F., 1986. ‘Creation Research Society Studies on Precambrian Pollen: Part I—A Review’. Creation Research Society Quarterly, 23: 99-104.
  • Lammerts, W.E. and Howe, G.F., 1987. ‘Creation Research Society Studies on Precambrian Pollen—Part II: Experiments on Atmospheric Pollen Contamination of Microscope Slides’. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 23: 151-153.
  • Howe, G.F., Williams, E.L., Matzko, G.T. and Lammerts, W.E., 1988. ‘Creation Research Society Studies on Precambrian Pollen, Part III: A Pollen Analysis of Hakatai Shale and other Grand Canyon Rocks.’ Creation Research Society Quarterly, 24: 173-182.


  1. Burdick, C.L., 1966. ‘Microflora of the Grand Canyon’. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 3: 38-50.Return to text.
  2. Burdick, C.L., 1972. ‘Progress Report of Grand Canyon Palynology’. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 9: 25-36.
  3. Chadwick, A.V., 1973. ‘Grand Canyon Palynology—A Reply’. Creation Research Society Quarterly. 9: 238.Return to text.
  4. Chadwick, A.V., 1981. ‘Precambrian Pollen in the Grand Canyon—A Re-examination’. Origins 8(1): 7-12.

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