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Creation 34(2):19, April 2012

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Mummified trees millions of years old—not

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©iStockPhoto.com/curiousjmonkey 8626-pic

Researchers recently announced the discovery of mummified wood and other plant material in Quttinirpaaq National Park in the Canadian Arctic. The area is barren and icy, less than 8º south of the geographic North Pole. Local temperatures fall to −50ºC (−58ºF).

Acting on a tip-off from a local ranger, Ohio State University Earth scientist Joel Barker found “exquisitely preserved” broken tree trunks and branches “and even leaves”, that had emerged from underneath a glacier.1 He and his team said that the pine, spruce and birch trees had originally been buried in a landslide. Despite the amazingly fresh condition of the wood, Barker, a believer in long ages, recently announced the trees were somewhere between 2 and 12 million years old.2

The wood is still wood

Surprisingly, given such an old age being assigned to it, the wood is still completely woody, and readily burns. It has not been petrified (turned to stone). Even the most delicate structures such as leaves have been perfectly preserved. Now that it is exposed to the elements, the wood is beginning to rot.

Robert Blanchette, plant biologist with the University of Minnesota, was clearly impressed by the supposed age of the material. “Finding wood that is millions of years old in such good condition—almost as if you just picked it up from the forest floor … .”3 And as Barker puts it, “The dead trees look just like the dried-out dead wood lying outside now.”

How the wood was dated

How did Barker arrive at such a date? He began with the presupposition that the earth is billions of years old. He then used the following reasoning: Because pollen that disappeared about 12 million years ago (according to the long-ages time scale) is absent, the trees are probably no more than 12 million years old. And because ocean cores indicate that forests disappeared from the Arctic 2 million years ago (again, according to long-age assumptions), Barker believes that the wood is at least as old as that. Pretty simple conclusion? But there’s a terrible blind spot there to reality.

Difficult to believe

How can one believe that wood and leaves could survive in such a fresh state in a near-surface environment for even one million years, let alone up to 12 million years, even if surrounded by ice? Beautifully preserved, unaltered organic material such as this suggests a maximum age measured in hundreds or thousands of years at the most.

Barker said, “When we started pulling leaves out of the soil, that was surreal, to know that it’s millions of years old and that you can hold it in your hand.” Yes, surreal is a good word to describe it: as in unreal, and fantastic. The millions of years are held in his head, not in his hands.

References and notes

  1. Ancient forest emerges mummified from the Arctic, physorg.com/news, 15 December 2010. Return to text.
  2. Back to the future with mummified trees, physorg.com/news, 17 March 2011. Return to text.
  3. Inman, M., Mummified forest found on treeless Arctic island, National Geographic News, news.nationalgeographic.com/news, 17 December 2010. Return to text.