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Creation 33(3):16–17, July 2011

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Pollen Paradox

Evolutionists have ‘allergic’ reaction to Precambrian pollen–South American fossils more than a billion years ‘out of date’

by and Carl Wieland

Illustrated by Caleb SalisburyPollen paradox

England’s Sir Walter Raleigh, who introduced tobacco and potatoes to Europe, is best known for having supposedly used his expensive cloak to cover a mud puddle to protect the feet of Queen Elizabeth I. He was beheaded by her successor, James I (of KJV Bible fame) in 1618, but not before he had become the first European to discover South America’s Mount Roraima. Its peak, some 2,810 m (9,219 ft) above sea level, is in Venezuela.1 The area was also the setting for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous novel The Lost World.

Mount Roraima is one of a group of table-top mountains (or mesas), known locally as tepuis, made of quartz arenite sandstone. This is believed to be the remains of a large sandstone plateau.

By all orthodox geological methods, including radiometric ‘dating’, this rock is supposed to have been laid down no less than 1.7 (most say 1.8) billion years ago.

On the standard evolutionary geological column (Fig. 1), this was the Precambrian, well before there was supposed to be any multi-cellular life on Earth—only bacteria and algae. It is certainly long, long before there were supposed to be any plants on Earth capable of producing spores or pollen. The very earliest that evolutionists would countenance anything even remotely like a seed-bearing plant is the late Devonian, around 380 million years ago.

Fossils in the ‘wrong’ era

Yet fossils of spores and pollen have been found in the Roraima formation, as reported in a 1966 article in the prestigious journal Nature.2 That means they are at least 1,300 million, or 1.3 billion years ‘out of date’.

Geologic column

The discovery was made in 1963, when a palynologist3 from an oil company tested samples collected from the area by a botanist. The above-mentioned paper in Nature was by Dr R.M. Stainforth,4 a geologist regarded as somewhat of an authority on the region’s stratigraphy and micropaleontology. It was such a baffling find (for long-age belief) that in 1964, a special expedition of qualified geologists was sent to verify the facts. They took more samples, trying to avoid areas where pollen from outside could enter the rocks (like cleavage planes). Then three palynologists independently tested the samples—and found more of the same fossil pollen and spores.

Could the rocks have been wrongly dated?

A 1964 letter to Nature cited studies reported in the same journal the previous year that confirmed that the Roraima rock definitely had to be assigned that vast age in the evolutionary system.5

In his notes accompanying a weblisting of many of his papers, Stainforth, himself accepting of evolution’s long-ages, stated about this find:

“The rocks concerned are unquestionably ancient (Precambrian) and are so altered that no organic matter should be recognizable in them. Also they are physically dense, with no obvious routes (such as natural permeability/porosity or crack systems) through which solid particles might enter them. Yet standard palynological techniques recovered well-preserved fossil pollen from the samples!!!”6 [Triple exclamation in original.]

The species responsible for the fossil pollen and spores are hard to assign with certainty, but definitely do not represent the sorts of species in the area nowadays. As stated, they can be no older than ‘Devonian’. Most reports suggest types of plants which evolutionary reasoning puts into the Tertiary period, some 60 million years ago. This makes the evolutionary discordance over 300 million years worse than the 1.3 billion years stated earlier.

Coping with conundrum

In his original article in Nature, Stainforth reports how opinions on this evolutionary paradox basically fall into two camps (both long-age, of course). The first camp says, in effect, that the radiometric dating shows the rock must be that old. But by evolutionary reasoning, having plants living at a time more than a billion years before they emerged is impossible. So therefore the pollen must represent some sort of secondary contamination.

In support of their contention, they state that the rock shows significant alteration by metamorphism,7 making it unlikely that fossil pollen could have survived.

The second camp responds that no-one has ever tested the belief that fossil pollen cannot survive metamorphism. (This was true then, but not now: a 2007 paper described “remarkably preserved” fossil spores in rock in the French Alps that had undergone high-grade metamorphism.8 One of us—ES—is also familiar with fossil spores in Romanian metamorphic rock.)

The second camp also points out that the rock’s altered (hardened) nature is evidence for their belief that:

“ … by no conceivable physical means could the pollen (and spores) have entered the metamorphosed sediments from the outside. They are dense impermeable rocks compressed by an overburden of hundreds of feet … [and] the face which was sampled must have been deep within the formation until quite recent times.”9

Stainforth’s last paragraph states: “we offer no solution to the paradox”. It ends by calling this “a highly intriguing geological problem”.

The rules of the game

It has long been clear that the evolutionary/long-age framework of understanding is a powerful philosophical paradigm that resists falsification. Evolutionists have protested that it would be ‘easy’ to falsify evolution and its associated long-age system—just produce a substantially out-of-place fossil, e.g. rabbits in the Cambrian.

There have in fact been many instances where fossils have been found where they have not been expected. However, these only serve to demonstrate the strategies available to long-agers for coping with such unexpected discoveries. They can, for instance, extend the known range of the species to incorporate the new information.

Or they can assume that the fossil is an example of ‘reworking’. I.e. fossils from ‘age’ A have somehow entered a layer of ‘age’ B. Sometimes there is evidence that such ‘intrusive burial’ has happened. But as we see from the position of the first camp regarding the Roraima pollen, it can be (and often is) held in defiance of the physical evidence.

Simply put, the Roraima pollen ‘can’t be’ the same age as the rock—or else the whole long-age geological system, with its evolutionary progression, collapses. The only reasonable alternative would be biblical (supernatural, recent) creation.

So these fossils simply ‘have to’ be from a much later era, somehow having become mysteriously emplaced into the rock countless hundreds of millions of years after it formed and hardened (according to the evolutionary story).

What if all such attempts at explanation fail, and the physical evidence is faced squarely—as for the second camp above? Well, one just puts it on the shelf as an unsolved mystery. That’s the way it’s been for the Roraima evidence for around half a century.

Either way, it’s like a game with loaded dice—the ‘house’ (long-age belief) wins every time.

First posted on homepage: 27 June 2011
Re-posted on homepage: 30 August 2023

References and notes

  1. The extent of the mountain (31 km2 or 12 sq. miles) includes the triple border point of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana (previously British Guiana). Return to text.
  2. Stainforth, R.M. Occurrence of pollen and spores in the Roraima Formation of Venezuela and British Guiana,
    Nature 210(5033):292–294, 16 April 1966. Return to text.
  3. Palynology = the study of present-day and fossil pollen, spores, etc. Return to text.
  4. He was the driving force behind the bulletin of the Asociación Venezolana de Geología, Minería y Petroleo. Return to text.
  5. Bailey, P.B.H., Possible Microfossils found in the Roraima Formation in British Guiana, Nature 202(4930):384, 25 April 1964. Bailey was with the Geological Survey of British Guiana, Georgetown. Return to text.
  6. See 1966 section in rpasmd.org/rms/Annotated_list_pubns.htm, available via web.archive.org. See also rpasmd.org/rms/Discussion_Roraima.htm (available via web.archive.org) and rpasmd.org/rms/Pollen_Roraima.htm, available via web.archive.org. Return to text.
  7. This is when a rock is changed by recrystallization, through e.g. heat and pressure, to another type—limestone into marble is one such example. Return to text.
  8. Bernard, S. et al., Exceptional preservation of fossil plant spores in high-pressure metamorphic rocks, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 262(1–2):257–272, 2007. Return to text.
  9. Ref. 2. The pollen at Roraima was also found in hornfels, a very hard rock formed by contact metamorphism. Return to text.

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