This article is from
Creation 42(4):39–41, October 2020

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A strange mix of plants and animals during the Ice Age

Figure 1. Reindeer


The period of the Ice Age, called the Pleistocene, presents many puzzles for secular scientists, in addition to the overriding mystery of how the Ice Age itself came about. One of these additional mysteries concerns the strange mix of plants and animals that lived during the Ice Age.1 Plants and animals from widely different climates or environments are found together in Ice Age deposits. These are called ‘disharmonious associations’ (DAs).

Examples of DAs

In deposits formed during the Ice Age, warmth-loving animals have been found at high latitudes (i.e. closer to the poles), while cold-loving animals have been found at lower latitudes. In the United States, fossils of reindeer (figure 1) are found mingled with warmth-loving animals as far south as Alabama and Georgia. In Florida during the Ice Age, present-day subtropical animals coexisted with tropical and temperate western grassland species. Very few tropical mammals live in Florida today. In Alaska, badgers, black-footed ferrets, ground sloths, camels, and giant beavers (figure 2) that prefer temperate climates are found in association with woolly mammoths and other cold-tolerant animals.2 The same pattern holds in Siberia.

The most ‘outrageous’ example

Probably the most striking example of a DA during the Ice Age is the association of hippopotamus fossils (figure 3) with reindeer, musk oxen, and woolly mammoths in England, France, and Germany.3,4 So far about 100 of these associations have been discovered in England and Wales.5 Hippos are intolerant of the cold.6 Sutcliffe states:

Finding conditions so favourable[,] the hippopotamus (today an inhabitant of the equatorial regions) had been able to spread northwards throughout most of England and Wales, up to an altitude of 400 meters on the now bleak Yorkshire [northern England] moors.7

The wide variety of Ice Age animals found in England indicates that early in the Ice Age, there must have been an easy passage between what is now France and England. This was likely a land bridge in the location of the Dover Strait. Today hippos do not roam anywhere close to Europe, nor are they found in the Mediterranean area or even the Middle East.

Attempted secular explanations

Secular scientists attempt to dodge the implications of DAs. Since they believe in multiple ice ages, one strategy is placing the hippos and other warmth-adapted creatures into the ‘interglacial’ phases and the cold-tolerant animals into the ‘glacial’ phases.8 (We supposedly live in an interglacial called the Holocene.)

Much to secularists’ consternation, warm- and cold-loving animal types are often found together in Ice Age sediments, making it difficult to separate them into glacial and interglacial inhabitants. Anthropologist Donald Grayson says:

Figure 2. Giant beaver
In the valley of the Thames [southern England], for instance, woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceros, musk ox, reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious), and cave lion (Felis leo spelaea) had all been found by 1855 in stratigraphic [sedimentary] contexts that seemed to indicate contemporaneity [lived at the same time]…9

Some scientists contend that this association in the same deposits could be due to ‘mixing’ of sediments between glacial and interglacial phases, assuming of course that the warmth-loving animals would want to migrate as far north as northern England, even during an ‘interglacial’. Nilsson states:

The occurrences of such taxa as hippopotamus that are closely adapted to warmth, may result from the reworking [mixing] of older, interglacial deposits.10

Reworking is a commonly used ‘rescue device’ to explain away a contradiction in the sediments or sedimentary rocks.

However, the fact that Pleistocene DAs are widespread across the earth but totally absent in deposits from the present ‘interglacial’ period is strong evidence against such mixing.11 Sediments are rarely mixing with glacial sediments today. In fact, DAs also occur in previous so-called ‘interglacials’, indicating these never really existed.

Some scientists have suggested the animals developed increased climatic tolerance during the Ice Age. However, the idea that hippos were cold-adapted in northwest Europe during the Ice Age has been dismissed by most investigators.12 Increased climatic tolerance does not work because DAs were so widespread during the Ice Age.

DAs were the rule

Disharmonious associations were the ‘rule’ and not the exception during the Ice Age, and included a wide variety of flora and fauna:

Late Pleistocene [Ice Age] communities were characterized by the coexistence of species that today are allopatric [live in different regions not climatically associated] and presumably ecologically incompatible. … Disharmonious associations have been documented for late Pleistocene floras … terrestrial invertebrates … lower vertebrates, birds, and mammals.13

Stafford et al. support this conclusion:

Late Pleistocene terrestrial mammal faunas are characterized by the stratigraphic association of extant species that do not currently live together. … Nonanalog [i.e. not in line with today’s environment] Pleistocene fossil mammal faunas are recorded worldwide, … Although nonanalog associations are most commonly cited in the mammal literature, they are also reported for fossil birds … reptiles and amphibians, pollen, plant macrofossils, insects, and molluscs.14

The early-to-mid Ice Age climate was equable

Figure 3. Hippo

DAs can only occur in an equable climate, one with little seasonal contrast between winters and summers. Grayson said:

If the musk ox required cold, and the hippopotamus required warmth, and the stratigraphic evidence implied that they had coexisted, then a straightforward reading of all this information could imply that glacial climates had not, as most felt, been marked by severe winters, but had instead been equable.12

Grayson, quoting from a mid-1800s scientist, further states:

There must have been cooler summers for the reindeer and musk-ox; and on the other hand, warmer winters for the hippopotamus and other species whose analogs are today found withdrawn toward the tropical regions.12

Moreover, the existence of warm-climate animals and plants at high latitudes implies that this equable climate was also mild. The climate also must have been humid: “The implications of the botanical co-occurrences [in France] seemed clear to Saporta: only a humid equable climate would have allowed such an association.”15

Uniformitarian ice age models are very cold and dry

One reason DAs remain a mystery for uniformitarian scientists is that in their models, the ice ages would have been very cold. Many climate simulations have been run. They all give temperatures much colder than today, generally by 10°C (18°F) or more, and greater dryness south of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets.16 Moreover, the simulations show a large seasonal contrast that is very far from mild! The upshot of all climate simulations is that the uniformitarian ice age models do not produce a mild, moist equable climate. Secular scientists have been mystified for over 150 years:

One of the longest-running philosophical debates in paleoecological interpretations concerns the importance of mixed, or disharmonious, assemblages which represent past communities with no modern analog. These mixed assemblages challenge our world views. … Mixed assemblages are usually explained by invoking past climates more “equable” than that of today.17

The post-Flood Ice Age easily explains DAs

Disharmonious associations with a mild, moist, and equable climate are one of many evidences for a radically different Ice Age than uniformitarians believe. A mild Ice Age climate is exactly what we would predict from the Ice Age caused by the Genesis Flood for an early-to-mid Ice-Age environment. This climate would be typified by cool summers and mild winters accompanied by abundant precipitation.1

The Ice Age caused by the Genesis Flood explains the most striking DA—hippopotamuses associated with cold-tolerant animals in northwest Europe. Early in the Ice Age a warm, moist onshore air flow pushed by predominantly westerly winds off a warm North Atlantic Ocean would result in a warm, wet climate over northwest Europe. England may have averaged 25°C (77°F) in winter and summer. This mild climate would be congenial for hippos spreading from the “mountains of Ararat” in the Middle East. (At that time these might not have been as specialized by natural selection for hot climates as today’s hippos, but sharing the same gene pool, they would scarcely have been able to tolerate freezing conditions.)

But the post-Flood Ice Age climate was dynamic and ever-changing. As the ocean cooled and volcanism decreased, the land temperatures cooled. In Northwest Europe late in the Ice Age, the cooler and drier climate attracted cold-tolerant animals. Hippos likely could not migrate south, because the land bridge between England and France at the Dover Strait was destroyed by a catastrophic local flood.18

Ice Age glaciation began in the northern mountains of the U.K. (the Scottish Highlands) and then spread to lower elevations and southward, except for southeast England. So, as the climate changed late in the Ice Age, the trapped hippos died alongside cold-tolerant animals.


The strange mix of plants and animals that lived together during the Ice Age is another of the many puzzles that have persisted for 150 years for scientists who ignore the biblical Flood. But, once again, realistic analysis using a Genesis-based model of Earth history gives simple, solid answers to those puzzles.

Posted on homepage: 8 March 2021

References and notes

  1. Oard, M.J., Frozen in Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets, Master books, Green Forest, AR, pp. 44–45, 2004. Return to text.
  2. Stuart, A.J., Mammalian extinctions in the Late Pleistocene of northern Eurasia and North America, Review of Biology 66:453–562, 1991. Return to text.
  3. Nilsson, T., The Pleistocene—Geology and Life in the Quaternary Ice Age, D. Reidel Publishing Co., Boston, MA, pp. 223–233, 1983. Return to text.
  4. Sutcliffe, A.J., On the Tracks of Ice Age Mammals, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, p. 24, 1985. Return to text.
  5. Stuart, A.J., Pleistocene Vertebrates in the British Isles. Longman, London, U.K., p. 52, 1982. Return to text.
  6. Stuart, A.J., Late Quaternary megafaunal extinctions on the continents: a short review, Geological Journal 50:338–363, 2015. Return to text.
  7. Sutcliffe, ref. 4, p. 120. Return to text.
  8. Sutcliffe, ref. 4, p. 24. Return to text.
  9. Grayson, D.K., Historical background and the beasts themselves; in: Martin, P.S. and Klein, R.G. (Eds.), Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution, The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, p. 16, 1984. Return to text.
  10. Nilsson, ref. 3, p. 227. Return to text.
  11. Graham, R.W. and Lundelius Jr., E.L., Coevolutionary disequilibrium and Pleistocene extinctions; in: Martin, P.S. and Klein, R.G. (Eds.), Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, pp. 223–249, 1984. Return to text.
  12. Grayson, ref. 9, p. 18. Return to text.
  13. Graham and Lundelius, ref. 11, p. 224. Return to text.
  14. Stafford, Jr, T.W., and 6 others, First accelerator mass spectrometry 14C dates documenting contemporaneity of nonanalog species in late Pleistocene mammal communities, Geology 27(10): 903906, 1999. Return to text.
  15. Grayson, ref. 9, p. 19. Return to text.
  16. Manabe, S. and Broccoli, A.J., The influence of continental ice sheets on the climate of an ice age, J. Geophysical Research 90(C2):2,167–2,190, 1985. Return to text.
  17. Cole, K.L., Equable climates, mixed assemblages, and the regression fallacy; in: Steadman, D.W. and Mead, J.I. (Eds.), Late Quaternary Environments and Deep History: A Tribute to Paul S. Martin, The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota, Inc., Hot Springs, SD, p. 131, 1995. Return to text.
  18. Silvestru, E., Wild, wild floods! Silvestru, E., Wild, wild floods! J. Creation22(1):12–14, 2008; creation.com/north-sea-megaflood. Return to text.

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