A Classic Polystrate Fossil | The Institute for Creation Research
A Classic Polystrate Fossil

Years ago, National Geographic published a remarkable photograph of a polystrate fossil, a fossilized tree that extended stratigraphically upward through several layers of rock in Tennessee. Its roots were in a coal seam, and the overlying deposits included bedded shale and thin carbon-rich layers. An advocate of any form of uniformitarianism would believe that it took many, many years to deposit this sequence of layers (much longer than it takes for a tree to grow and eventually die and decay), yet one vertical fossil extends through them all. This one fossilized tree offered a direct contradiction to the evolutionary mantra that "the present is the key to the past."

The specific strata surrounding the fossil provided a history. According to uniformitarianism, many years are required for a thick layer of peat to accumulate in a swampy environment. This type of location is quite different from the marine environment in which tiny shale-sized particles are deposited. Over "millions and millions of years" of heat and pressure generated by the subsequently deposited overlying marine sediments, the peat is thought to have metamorphosed into coal.

The tree was a mature tree, yet could not have grown in the location where the surrounding shale was deposited, since trees don't live long under the sea. Furthermore, the time required for shaley sediments to accumulate must be added to the tree's lifespan, as must the time to deeply bury the coal precursor and create the pressure to generate enough heat to alter the peat into coal. No scenario possible today could account for this sequence of events if evolution’s interpretation of earth history is true.

Creationists immediately recognized the educational value of this remarkable fossil, but evolutionists routinely ignore it. The name polystrate ("many layers") is used only by creationists. You will seldom find it in the standard literature, even though the related concepts are easily grasped. Unfortunately, National Geographic requires a not-insignificant fee for the use of its photographs, and only on occasion was this one used by creationists. The fossil looked rather fragile, and since many polystrates are known, we never tried to go to the site and relocate this particular one.

Recently, however, creationist Ian Juby decided to try and track it down. Much to his surprise, it was still there, looking even better than ever. But there's more--the fossilized tree stood in the neighborhood of numerous other trees. It suggests a significant dynamic event that uprooted, transported, and buried many trees in an upright position.

Just such an event happened at Mount St. Helens in 1980, when an eruption toppled a standing forest. The tree trunks were deposited in Spirit Lake. After a few years of waterlogging, the trunks sunk roots down, in life's position but not life's location. Today there are tens of thousands of upright trees standing on the bottom of the lake. They are being engulfed by fine particles of volcanic ash and clay, and if the underlying organic layer of bark were heated by a future eruption, it would likely metamorphose into coal and duplicate the scenario revealed in the photo.

The eruption at Mount St. Helens taught us much about the effects of dynamic processes. It provided a model for deciphering unseen past geologic cataclysms, and produced effects which before had puzzled us. Our understanding of possible events during the great Flood of Noah's day was substantially expanded, including that rapid deposition of sediments and burial of fossils could be expected during such a deluge. The more evidence that science uncovers, the more it supports the biblical account of earth's history.

* Dr. Morris is President of the Institute for Creation Research.

Photo Credit: Ian Juby

Cite this article: Morris, J. 2009. A Classic Polystrate Fossil. Acts & Facts. 38 (10): 15.

The Latest
ACTS & FACTS
Honoring Pioneers of Creation
It’s always fun to catch up with old friends. We recently asked some pioneers of the creation movement to share with us where they are in their...

ACTS & FACTS
Henry M. Morris and Duane T. Gish: Advancing the Cause of Christ
    The following excerpts by Dr. Henry Morris and Dr. Duane Gish were taken from the first issue of the Creation-Science...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Pioneer Don DeYoung
I first met Dr. Henry Morris in 1973 when he spoke in chapel at Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. With a growing interest in creation studies,...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Pioneer Larry Vardiman
Larry and Jeannette Vardiman   During my second year in graduate school at Colorado State University, I received a phone call...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Pioneer David Coppedge
David Coppedge   I’ve lived in Santa Clarita, California, since 1992, but I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. My parents...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Pioneer Russell Humphreys
Russell Humphreys   After I retired in 2008 from being an associate professor for the Institute for Creation Research, I moved...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Pioneer Gary Parker
Gary Parker   In rural south Florida where I grew up (Arcadia, DeSoto County), where my wife, Mary, and I had the first of our...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Pioneer John Baumgardner
My wife, Mary, and I currently live in central Virginia near Lynchburg and Liberty University, where I serve as research professor emeritus in the School...

ACTS & FACTS
John C. Whitcomb: God’s Providence and The Genesis Flood
John C. Whitcomb   John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris published The Genesis Flood in 1961. For the first time, a book presented...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Pioneer John Morris
Several years have passed since I retired from the Institute for Creation Research. Let me emphasize “retired.” I didn’t leave ICR....