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This article is from
Creation 34(1):42–43, January 2012

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The ‘Arabia’: a steamboat buried in a cornfield



In 1856, while on a voyage up the Missouri River, the steamboat Arabia hit a concealed log and slowly began to sink.1 It had a full contingent of passengers and crew. Also on board was a cargo of new store goods including clothing, elegant china, preserved foods, tools and medicines, representing many of the necessities and small luxuries of life for the settlers of the western frontier.

Eventually the steamboat disappeared completely beneath the water, but not before all the passengers and crew were rescued. A poor mule went down with the ship, along with the cargo. At first, attempts were made to recover some of the goods but the heavily mud-laden waters and fast-flowing current proved too difficult for the salvagers. The steamboat and its contents remained undisturbed on the bed of the river.

Over the years the river shifted its banks, with the result that the steamboat became deeply buried in river sediment. Where it sank became a cornfield, more than 800 metres (over half a mile) from the present course of the river. Arabia’s exact location was lost, and her story passed into legend.

Artist's impression

But in 1988, using modern geophysical equipment, explorers rediscovered the wreck. Although not a small steamboat, at 52 metres (171 feet) long and able to carry 222 tons of freight, the Arabia was buried 14 metres (45 feet) underground. Large excavators and a crane were needed, and the salvagers ended up digging a hole as big as a football field.2

The walnut log (below) that caused the sinking was still piercing the hull, and the bones of the long-dead mule were on the deck. Hundreds of the diverse cargo goods were recovered, many beautifully preserved.3 Today you can visit a museum displaying some of these items which provide a fascinating insight into the fashions, habits and styles of those frontier times.

walnut log

Secular geologists often say that it takes eons of time for sedimentary layers to form. But the steamboat Arabia was completely buried in sediment, and then some, in about 50 years.4 This gives a tiny insight into how the vast waters of Noah’s Flood, global in magnitude and laden with sand and mud, would be capable of depositing much greater quantities of sediment than the Missouri River, over a much larger area, and in a much shorter space of time.

References and notes

  1. Gilbert, M.E., The Missouri River Steamboat Arabia, www.steamboats.com/museum/arabia.html Return to text.
  2. Arabia’s story and Arabia video viewable at: www.1856.com Return to text.
  3. Some of the preserved food is still edible, and even tastes good. French perfumes recovered retain their beautiful fragrance. Return to text.
  4. This is an estimate. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Michael W.
Whilst it is true that in some parts of the world, when conditions are favourable, significant depths of sediments can be deposited quickly, fast deposition of thick sedimentary layers is the exception rather than the norm. In most parts of the world it looks to me like things happen much more slowly.
In Egypt for example, the pyramids were there, and were old when Abraham visited.
Last year I lived in Izmir, Turkey for a while (it was ancient Smyrna). When Paul and John visited that city it was already more than 2,500 years old. The hills that formed it appeared to me to be far, far older than the origins of the city. The hills were not changing rapidly. They looked to me like very ancient hills.
Whatever we think about the timeframe in which the earth was created, I am grateful that my salvation is not based on how old I think the earth is.
Michael Walsh, mining engineer.
Tas Walker
The Bible provides the key to all the big questions. On salvation, it shows us why we need to be saved, what Jesus has done so we can be saved, and how we need to respond to make it effective in our lives. It also provides the answers to questions such as the age of the earth, the age of the hills, and the origin of cities such as Izmir. The framework is found in Genesis chapters 1–11, and Noah's Flood is the key.
Jerry M.
Our Grandmother told us the story of her mother being on that ship. As a young woman she was horrified seing the ship go down with the mule tied on deck. She was mad at the ships capitan stating that the mule had been untied. When they dug it up the mule was still tied to the deck. My Great Grandmother was vindicated.
Cliff C.
My wife and I have been to the museum and it is a "MUST SEE!".
Douglas K.
A somewhat similar story is seen in the wreck of the "Glacier Girl: The Lost Squadron" in Greenland in 1942. http://p38assn.org/glacier-girl.htm
During WWII a small squadron of six bombers and six fighters - enroute from the USA to England to fight the Germans -was lost in a snowstorm over Greenland. Although all the crew was saved, the airplanes were lost, and gradually sunk into the ice. Over the years the planes were covered by several hundred feet of snow which turned into ice. In 1989 - after nine years of search and digging - two aviation enthusiasts were able to retrieve a P-38 Lighting fighter plane intact, bring it home and fly it ("Glacier Girl"). Only thirty-eight years was required to bury those planes under two-hundred-fifty-two feet of solid ice!
John A.
Hmmm....makes you wonder where the ark built by Noah could possibly be, that is, if it wasn't dismantled for use as firewood or used on other building projects.
Jessica W.
My 9 year old son is fascinated by the fact that someone actually TASTED the food after 160 buried in mud. Those are some preservatives! ;)

John C.
A truly fascinating tale, both for its historical and geological benefits. Thank you for sharing it. It is practical, insightful ideas like these drawn from our everyday experiences, and sometimes our history, that make the creation worldview so logical.

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