Where are the fossils of buildings and artifacts from pre-Flood civilizations?
Published: 27 October 2020 (GMT+10)
We recently received this inquiry about the apparent lack of man-made objects deep in the fossil record. Does this absence contradict what creationists would expect given our claim that the fossil-bearing rocks were laid down by the Genesis Flood? Keaton Halley and Shaun Doyle of CMI–US respond.
We were wondering if there are any articles explaining the lack of “fossils” (lacking a better term) of pre-flood cities. We know Cain built a city. And we know they had ironworks. Why do we not find any fossils in these things? Just wondering if there’s been any study in this area.
Thanks for your help,
Thanks for the question. This is a topic about which we would also like to see creationists research and write more. With input from some of our colleagues, here is our take.
The issue of pre-Flood artifacts (buildings, tools, etc.) is related to the question of fossilized pre-Flood human remains. Human fossils do seem to be characteristically or at least generally absent from Flood rocks. We have offered possible explanations for this pattern in places like The Creation Answers Book, Chapter 15: Where are all the human fossils? But not all of the same explanations necessarily apply to artifacts. For example, one possible factor that contributed to the lack of human remains is their ability to flee to higher ground and escape burial. But buildings and other objects not carried by humans would not have been able to flee.
Before we consider some possible explanations that could account for the lack of confirmed pre-Flood artifacts, here are a couple of considerations to put this issue in perspective. First, there are plenty of examples in which two creatures that we know lived at the same time (in some cases, both still alive today) are widely separated as fossils in the geologic record. They are never found fossilized together, yet this clearly does not mean that they were separated in time. Examples include whales and coelacanths, or humans and Wollemi Pine Trees. We have also pointed out that footprints often appear in the fossil record well below body fossils of those same organisms, even though the bodies obviously had to be around to make the footprints! The point is that, even if we do not know with certainty how to explain the absence of some item from particular layers, that’s not a good reason to assume that it did not exist at the time those layers were being formed.
Second, it is possible that some pre-Flood artifacts have been found, but they are treated as rare anomalies that can be ignored or explained away through circular reasoning (e.g., “This must be an intrusive burial because we know humans weren’t around back then”). Some artifacts are claimed to have been found in coal and other deep rock layers, but the difficulty is that the finds have not been carefully documented before removal and, once disassociated from the rocks, it is mostly an argument from testimony, and the ‘reworking’ explanation can be invoked. The Creation Answers Book chapter above mentions some of these alleged ‘out-of-place’ artifacts documented by Cremo and Thompson. John Morris also covers some in his book, The Young Earth, chapter 6. Recently, the Institute for Creation Research even cautiously reported on a mask depicting a human face that was alleged to have been found in coal. Though it lacked provenance and should not be used as proof, it can encourage creationists to be on the lookout for such finds, as perhaps some day more properly documented examples will be forthcoming.
With those caveats in mind, here are some possible reasons for the general lack of pre-Flood cities and tools showing up in the fossil record.
1. The Flood was highly destructive.
Some artifacts may have been pulverized rather than preserved as fossils. If homes were built of mudbricks, for example, they could easily have been dissolved. Granted, this explanation can only go so far, because we know from fossils that the Flood was capable of preserving even fine details of soft-bodied creatures in some instances, though mostly it is hard shells and bones that tended to become fossils. Also, pre-Flood humans made hard things like metal tools, as you point out, including musical instruments mentioned in Genesis 4, and these would be more likely to be preserved. Still, the destructive power of the Flood could at least be a partial explanation.
2. The Flood did not produce fossils from a random sampling of all regions.
There could be many reasons why certain areas were more likely to be destroyed. For instance, ocean currents during the Flood would have been stronger in some parts of the globe than others—leading to differences in destruction and deposition. Just like wind speeds vary with latitude due to the Coriolis effect and other physics, with consistently high winds at mid-latitudes (‘roaring forties’) and very low winds at the equator (‘tropical doldrums’), the Flood’s sea currents would also have varied with latitude. The faster currents at mid-latitudes would have been more destructive, while the slow currents at low latitudes would have allowed sediments to drop out of the water and be deposited. Of course, many other processes were going on simultaneously making for a much more complex picture overall. But it is at least possible that humans were living primarily at mid-latitudes where the climate may have been more equable, and thus their possessions were subjected to more destructive forces, not to burial.
One should also keep in mind that the vast majority (probably 99%) of fossils we find today are either marine creatures (mostly invertebrates) or plants. So, for a land-based creature or object to be preserved as a fossil at all is a relatively rare thing. See also: Order in the fossil record: How can Noah’s Flood explain it?
Creation geologist Tim Clarey has been doing research into the six megasequences which comprise most of the Phanerozoic (fossil-bearing) record.1 These are packages of sedimentary deposits ideally characterized by coarse-grained rocks like sandstone at the bottom, followed by a fining upwards to shale and limestone, and capped by erosion surfaces on top and bottom.2 Clarey’s work has shown that practically no terrestrial fossils appear in the lowest three megasequences, which extend from the Cambrian up to the Carboniferous. So one should not expect to find human remains or artifacts in these deposits, because when they were being emplaced the Flood was not yet burying anything from the land.
Moreover, Clarey suggests that human settlements were located in the pre-Flood ‘uplands’ alongside most living mammals and angiosperms (flowering plants), which would correspond with the uppermost megasequence, the Tejas (which roughly corresponds to the Cenozoic). Clarey explains:
Much of the Tejas megasequence likely represents material washed off the highest pre-Flood hills that became ‘backwashed’ onto the Zuni strata as the Flood waters began to recede (Day 150+). Fossils in the Tejas megasequence also contain increasingly more angiosperms and mammal fossils compared to the Zuni deposits, indicative of higher terrains. These areas were apparently wiped free of all life, removing even the pre-Flood soil and any rock layers that might have existed there.3
In Clarey’s reconstruction of pre-Flood geography, “The pre-Flood high hills include the major shield areas of Canada, Greenland, Brazil and Central and Western Africa.“4 As such, today’s major Precambrian shield areas were denuded of all Flood sediments (and probably a lot of crystalline basement rock, as well) as the Flood receded from the earth. The Tejas is the depositional record of that denudation. As such, the Tejas has unique features among the megasequences that would make it ill-suited to preserving human artifactual remains:
Animals may have been buried closer to their place of origin as the Floodwaters were rising (Sauk through Zuni megasequences) until Day 150 was reached. The water and sediment likely engulfed the animals nearly in situ as the water level increased. But the Tejas depositional pattern appears to have been different. It was apparently the result of a reversal in flow direction as God began to remove the waters from off the continents after Day 150. This not only transported the flora and fauna from off of the highest hills, it spread those deposits outward toward the continental margins. Animals and plants that lived in areas that are now exposed crystalline rock (Precambrian shields) were transported great distances and deposited on top of the Zuni strata and sometimes older exposed strata too.5
Unlike in other megasequences, in the Tejas human artifactual remains would’ve been truly scattered, and thus would be much more likely to be destroyed, and much harder to find if they did survive.
3. Given the volume of Flood deposits, Pre-Flood artifacts might be the proverbial needle in a haystack.
The world is a big place, and it could be rare to find any human artifacts even if they are buried somewhere in the fossil record. We do not know how large the population size was before the Flood, but the Bible tells us that the world was then full of violence (Genesis 6:11), so wars and murders may have limited the population size. If humanity’s numbers were small, this would have limited the amount of material culture they produced as well. The Creation Answers Book chapter referenced above mentions that 10 million hypothetical bodies spread evenly throughout 700 million km3 or rock would amount to only 1 person for every 70 km3. The same principle can be applied to artifacts. It’s hard to estimate how many artifacts or buildings there may have been before the Flood. The pre-Flood people had about a millennium and a half to develop their technology, and the Bible tells us they were sophisticated enough to have made objects out of bronze and iron (Genesis 4:22) and to have built a giant Ark. But they were not as developed in technology as we are today. When the Bible says that Cain “built a city” (Genesis 4:17), for example, one should not think of a modern metropolis. The Hebrew term ‘ir can just mean a walled settlement—in this case, walled for protection from his kinsmen who might want to avenge their brother Abel. In any case, compared to the volume of the fossil-bearing Flood rocks, existing artifacts at the time of the Flood may have been relatively modest in size and few in number.
But even if the people were large in numbers and widely dispersed around the globe, and even if they had produced loads of buildings and artifacts, it still might be difficult to locate any surviving objects today amid such a huge search space. Ignoring the lower three megasequences based on considerations above, that still leaves the upper three, which are all most likely Flood deposits (including the ‘Cenozoic’ Tejas megasequence). The upper three megasequences actually represent the vast majority of the material in the Phanerozoic sedimentary record. Even if we count just the Tejas, that still comprises just under a third of the entire sedimentary rock volume of the Phanerozoic, and more than the first four megasequences combined. So any man-made objects could still have plenty of places to hide.
Anyway, those are some of the possibilities. Hopefully, with more study, other creationists can develop these answers further. But we hope the above helps to point you in the right direction.
References and notes
- Clarey, T., Carved in Stone: Geological Evidence of the Worldwide Flood, Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, Texas, 2020. Return to text.
- Davison, G., The Importance of Unconformity-Bounded Sequences in Flood Stratigraphy, Journal of Creation 9(2):223–243, 1995. Return to text.
- Clarey, ref. 1, p. 323. Return to text.
- Clarey, ref. 1, p. 324. Return to text.
- Clarey, ref. 1, p. 324–325. Return to text.