Creation 17(4):38–40, September 1995
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‘Instant’ petrified wood
‘Instant petrified wood’—so ran the heading to the announcement in Popular Science, October 1992.1 It’s also the reality of research conducted at the Advanced Ceramic Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle (USA).
Researchers have also made wood-ceramic composites that are 20–120% harder than regular wood, but still look like wood. Surprisingly simple, the process involves soaking wood in a solution containing silicon and aluminium compounds. The solution fills the pores in the wood, which is then oven-cured at 44°C (112°F). According to the lab’s research director, Daniel Dobbs, such experiments have impregnated the wood to depths of about 5 millimetres (0.2 inches). Furthermore, deeper penetration under pressure and curing at higher temperature have yielded a rock-hard wood-ceramic composite that has approached petrified wood.
Patent ‘recipe’ for petrification
However, priority for the discovery of a ‘recipe’ for petrification of wood must go to Hamilton Hicks of Greenwich, Connecticut (USA), who on September 16, 1986 was issued with US Patent Number 4,612,050.2 According to Hicks, his chemical ‘cocktail’ of sodium silicate (commonly known as ‘water glass’), natural spring or volcanic mineral water having a high content of calcium, magnesium, manganese, and other metal salts, and citric or malic acid is capable of rapidly petrifying wood. But in case you want to try this ‘recipe,’ you need to know that for artificial petrification to occur there is some special technique for mixing these components in the correct proportions to get an ‘incipient’ gel condition.
‘When applied to wood, the solution penetrates the wood. The mineral water and sodium silicate are relatively proportioned so the solution is a liquid of stable viscosity and is acidified to the incipient jelling [gelling] condition to a degree causing jelling [gelling] after penetrating the wood, but not prior thereto. That is to say, the solution can be stored and shipped, but after application to the wood, jells [gels] in the wood. When its content is high enough, the penetrated wood acquires the characteristics of petrified wood. The wood can no longer be made to burn even when exposed to moisture or high humidity, for a prolonged period of time. The apparent petrification is obtained quickly by drying the wood.3
The patent indicates that the amount of acid in the solution appears to have a critical effect on the production of the gel phase within the cell structure of the wood, although evaporation also plays its part. Wood thoroughly impregnated, even if necessary by repeated applications or submersions of the wood in the solution, after drying evidently has all the characteristics of petrified wood, including its appearance.
Both Hicks and the researchers at the University of Washington lab have suggested potential uses for such ‘instant’ petrified woods:
- Fireproofing wooden structures such as houses and horse stables (the horses wouldn’t be tempted to chew on the wood either!).
- Longer-wearing floors and furniture.
- Greater strength wood for structural uses.
- Insect, decay and salt water ‘proofing’ wood in buildings, etc.
Rapid natural petrification
The chemical components used to artificially petrify wood can be found in natural settings around volcanoes and within sedimentary strata. Is it possible then that natural petrification can occur rapidly by these processes? Indeed! Sigleo4 reported silica deposition rates into blocks of wood in alkaline springs at Yellowstone National Park (USA) of between 0.1 and 4.0 mm/yr.
From Australia come some startling reports. Writing in The Australian Lapidary Magazine, Pigott5 recounts his experiences in southwestern Queensland:
‘. . . from Mrs McMurray [of Blackall], I heard a story that rocked me and seemed to explode many ideas about the age of petrified wood. Mrs McMurray has a piece of wood turned to stone which has clear axe marks on it. She says the tree this piece came from grew on a farm her father had at Euthella, out of Roma, and was chopped down by him about 70 years ago. It was partly buried until it was dug up again, petrified. Mac McMurray capped this story by saying a townsman had a piece of petrified fence post with the drilled holes for wire with a piece of the wire attached.
‘Petrified wood thousands of years old? I wonder is it so?’
Several months later Pearce6 added further to these amazing stories of woods rapidly petrified in the ground of ‘outback’ Queensland:
‘. . . Piggott writes of petrified wood showing axe marks and also of a petrified fence post.
‘This sort of thing is, of course, quite common. The Hughenden district, N. Q. [North Queensland], has . . . Parkensonia trees washed over near a station [ranch] homestead and covered with silt by a flood in 1918 [which] had the silt washed off by a flood in 1950. Portions of the trunk had turned to stone of an attractive colour. However, much of the trunks and all the limbs had totally disappeared.
‘On Zara Station [Ranch], 30 miles [about 48 kilometres] from Hughenden, I was renewing a fence. Where it was dipped into a hollow the bottom of the old posts had gone through black soil into shale. The Gidgee wood was still perfect in the black soil. It then cut off as straight as if sawn, and the few inches of post in the shale was pure stone. Every axe mark was perfect and the colour still the same as the day the post was cut . . . .
‘I understand that down in the sandhill country below Boulia [south-western Queensland], where fences are often completely covered by shifting sand, it’ a common thing for the sand to shift off after a number of years, leaving stone posts standing erect.’
From the other side of the world comes a report of the chapel of Santa Maria of Health (Santa Maria de Salute), built in 1630 in Venice, Italy, to celebrate the end of The Plague. Because Venice is built on watersaturated clay and sand, the chapel was constructed on 180,000 wooden pilings to reinforce the foundations. Even though the chapel is a massive stone block structure, it has remained firm since its construction. How have the wooden pilings lasted over 360 years? They have petrified! The chapel now rests on ‘stone’ pilings!7
Of course, none of these reports should come as a surprise, since the processes of petrification of wood have been known for years, plus the fact that the process can occur, and has occurred, rapidly. For example Scurfield and Segnit8 had reported that the petrification of wood can be considered to take place in five stages:
1. Entry of silica in solution or as a colloid into the wood.
2. Penetration of silica into the cell walls of the wood’ structure.
3. Progressive dissolving of the cell walls which are at the same time replaced by silica so that the wood’ dimensional stability is maintained.
4. Silica deposition within the voids within the cellular wall framework structure.
5. Final hardening (lithification) by Drying out.
Furthermore Oehler9 had previously shown that the silica minerals quartz and chalcedony critically important in the petrification of wood, can be made, rapidly in the laboratory from silica gel. At 300°C (572°F) and 3 kilobars (about 3,000 atmospheres) pressure only 25 hours was required to crystallize quartz, whereas at only 165°C (329°F) and 3 kilobars pressure the same degree of crystallization occurred in 170 hours (about seven days).
Similarly, Drum10 had partially silicified small branches by placing them in concentrated solutions of sodium metasilicate for up to 24 hours, while Leo and Barghoorn11 had immersed fresh wood alternately in water and saturated ethyl silicate solutions until the open spaces in the wood were filled with mineral material, all within several months to a year. Likewise, as early as 1950 Merrill and Spencer12 had shown that the sorption of silica by wood fibres from solutions of sodium metasilicate, sodium silicate and activated silica sols (a homogeneous suspension in water) at only 25°C (77°F) was as much as 12.5 moles of silica per gram within 24 hours--the equivalent of partial silicification/petrification. As Sigleo concluded,
‘These observations indicate that silica nucleation and deposition can occur directly and rapidly on exposed cellulose [wood] surfaces.’13
The evidence, both from scientists’ laboratories and God’ natural laboratory, shows that under the right chemical conditions wood can be rapidly petrified by silicification, even at normal temperatures and pressures. The process of petrification of wood is now so well known and understood that scientists can rapidly make petrified wood in their laboratories at will.
Unfortunately, most people still think, and are led to believe, that fossilized wood buried in rock strata must have taken thousands, if not millions, of years to petrify. Clearly, such thinking is erroneous, since it has been repeatedly demonstrated that petrification of wood can, and does, occur rapidly. Thus the timeframe for the formation of the petrified wood within the geological record is totally compatible with the biblical time-scale of a recent creation and a subsequent devastating global Flood.
- Phil McCafferty, ‘Instant petrified wood?’, Popular Science, October 1992, pp. 56-57.
- Hamilton Hicks, ‘Mineralized sodium silicate solutions for artificial petrification of wood’, United States Patent Number 4,612,050, September 16,1986, pp. 1-3. As cited by: Steven Austin, CatastroRef--’Catastrophe Reference Database: Catastrophes in Earth History, Geologic Evidence, Speculation and Theory’, Institute for Creation Research, San Diego. Entry no. 267.
- Hicks, Ref 2.
- A.C. Sigleo, ‘Organic geochemistry of silicified wood, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona’, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Vol. 42, 1978, pp. 1397-1405.
- Roy Piggott, The Australian Lapidary Magazine, January 1970, p. 9.
- R.C. Pearce, ‘Petnfied wood’, The Australian Lapidary Magazine, June 1970, p. 33.
- Segment on ‘Burke’ Backyard’, Channel 9 TV, Sydney, June 1995.
- G. Scurfield and E.R. Segnit, ‘Petnfication of wood by silica minerals’, Sedimentary Geology, Vol. 39, 1984, pp. 149-167.
- John H. Oehler, ‘Hydrothermal crystallization of silica gel’, Geological Society of America Bulletin, Vol. 87, August 1976, pp. 1143-1152.
- R.W. Drum, ‘Silicification of Betula woody tissue in vitro’, Science, Vol. 161, 1968, pp 175-176.
- R.E. Leo, and E.S. Barghoorn, ‘Silicification of wood’, Harvard University Botanical Museum Leaflets, No. 25, 1976, pp. 1-47.
- R.C. Mernll and R.W. Spencer, ‘Sorption of sodium silicates and silicate sols by cellulose fibers’, Industrial Engineering Chemistry, Vol. 42, 1950, pp. 744-747.
- Sigleo, Ref 4, p. 1404.
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