Fossil trees are found on virtually every continent.
Sometimes they are found lying prostrate on, or upright
-- and extending -- above the
surface of the ground; however, in most cases such trees are
buried entirely within the
strata itself, in either prostrate, oblique, or upright positions. When
upright trees are found in one location,
they may be termed a "fossil forest." In the United States
alone such "forests" have been found in Alabama,
Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Montana,
Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Washington
deposits are found in England, Germany and
France. However, the most extensive such "forests"
in North America are in Western Nova Scotia,
near the town of Joggins. Here, along the coast
of the Bay of Fundy, approximately 14,000 feet of sedimentary
strata is exposed in the face of the cliffs with
large sections containing upright fossil
plants and trees. Similar deposits are also in Northern Nova
Scotia along the coast near the town of
Sydney, and, to a lesser extent, in other parts of
the Province. The beds at Joggins and Sydney consist mainly of alternating layers
of sandstones, shales, coals and coaly shales, along with mudstones,
clays, and occasional limestones. In many
cases argillaceous material (i.e. clay) is mixed in with the shales and sandstones.
examines, or rather re-examines, various individual sections of the Joggins
and Sydney strata that were -- at the time of publication -- said to represent
forests which were inundated again and again by what are often referred to as localized
The evidence presented herein suggests that the upright fossil
plants and trees in the Nova Scotia strata were not buried in their original places of
growth, but rather were uprooted by catastrophic influences,
transported and re-deposited
perhaps by a
Flood. Evidence is also
presented, both for and against the allochthonous and autochthonous theories of
coal formation. This evidence suggests that the long-held autochthonous (in situ)
theory for the accumulation of this coal may be incorrect.
For the past 150 years
the Nova Scotia strata has been interpreted
by most geologists as in situ
continental deposits laid down on river flood plains.
According to Dr. John Calder, this interpretation is
and others (such as myself) believe that this view is incorrect. One of the first things
which led me to question this interpretation were the drawings
themselves. It seemed strange to suggest that many of the fossil trees have
"extensive root systems" yet the pictures and drawings of them do not.
The term polystrate
is now often
used to describe fossil trees that are upright in relation
to the surrounding strata. Such trees quite often traverse multiple
layers of horizontally deposited strata: including sandstones, shales, and
sometimes even coal
fossil plants range in size from small rootlets,
to trees over 80 feet long. 3
Nova Scotia, has
perhaps more upright fossil trees and plants than any place
on earth. At
Joggins alone, erect trees and plants occur at over 50 "levels"
scattered throughout 7,500 feet of strata;
erect roots and rootlets occur at many more "levels."
Drifted plants and trees also occur in
many sections of this strata. These drift deposits are scattered
over more than 10,000 vertical feet of strata.4,5,6
Most of the upright fossil trees at Joggins are from 2-15 feet in length. The longest was 40 feet.
Many, if not
most, of the upright fossil trees at Joggins have little or no visible traces of roots.
8 In addition, many of
the larger Stigmaria roots are missing their
and many, if not most, rootlets
are buried individually: unattached to any
tree, or larger root.8,
Fragile fossils such as leaves are also common
in the Joggins
and Sidney strata.10
tracks, insects, and rain marks are also found, although
they are not nearly as common. The strata at Sydney is also said to be very similar to that of
Obscure Journals and Old
Although there is enough data on fossil trees, tree stumps and roots to perhaps
fill a 200-400 page book, much of it is only accessible with access to
large University libraries, document provider services, and from books over 100
years old: half of which is in German.12
One of the few articles in English that was devoted to this
topic was by Prof. Rupke. In it he remarks that:
“... I am of the opinion that the
polystrate fossils constitute a crucial phenomenon both to the actuality and the mechanism of
cataclysmic deposition. Curiously a paper on polystrate fossils appears
to be a ‘black swan’ in geological literature. Antecedent to
this synopsis a systematic discussion of the relevant
phenomena was never published. However, geologists
must have been informed about these fossils. In
view of this it seems unintelligible that
uniformitarianism has kept
its dominant position."
This was also hinted at by
Schrock when he stated that:
“No attempt has been made to compile
an extensive bibliography on the subject of buried stumps, trees, and similar structures,
but the following references contain the essential literature: ...”
And while Schrock's references were used in the preparation of this
paper, they are only a small portion of the available data on this subject.
Are Present Deposition Rates the Key to the Past?
The a priori assumption of many geologists is that the massive
flat-lying, sheet-like, sedimentary deposits which are stacked, one upon the other, and
found throughout the world took hundreds of millions
to deposit. Such a hypothesis is known as uniformitarianism;
however, it is
inadequate to account for much, if not most, of the fossil-bearing strata.
Some people, who pride themselves as truth-seekers, seem to think that they must, at all costs, force-fit their
so that they always
fall into an evolution-based / semi-uniformitarian /
Old Earth philosophy. Others pretend as if they
debate long ago with regard to how we arrived on Earth, and that it should
"hereafter never... be questioned".
15 Unfortunately for the cause of
science, this has resulted in an almost paranoia of writing anything
that remotely resembles a catastrophic
viewpoint. For to do so
might subject one to ridicule, risk alienating colleagues, and
one's very career
in the field of evolutionary thought - also often referred to
as "science." In other words,
an evolutionary view, no matter
how unscientific it may be, is the only opinion that will be tolerated
when discussing our origins. Therefore an Old Earth is absolutely essential, and those who challenge it are often labeled enemies of "science," or
fanatics in an attempt to quickly dismiss the data,
and the debate, no matter how valid the contrary
evidences may be. For if the Time-curtain is lifted all
can (and likely will) see
that the evolutionary
house must be torn down -- leaving the entire scientific community with nothing at all to say regarding
our origins, and therefore greatly reducing their priest-like positions of
Therefore, in an attempt to quell the debate, the only type of floods
that are allowed in the "scientific" literature
today are small localized ones.
Thus, the sedimentary strata from the Coal Measures of Nova Scotia are often said to have taken many
millions of years to deposit.
For example, consider the following proclamation by Ferguson with regard
to the Joggins strata:
"These layers of sediment were originally laid
down more or less horizontally but are now tilted to the south at an
angle of about 20 degrees..." with "the top of the layers to the south, so
as you walk northwards up the beach towards Lower Cove you are actually passing by progressively
older rocks, retracing the earth's
history perhaps hundreds or thousands of years with
every step." 16 **
Sir William J. Dawson, or John W. Dawson, was the
author of Acadian Geology. Dawson's book provides us with what is perhaps the most detailed description
of the Joggins strata in print. It was first published in 1855. Later editions followed.
Dawson was a protégé of Sir Charles Lyell,
he was a Christian who believed in a Creator
and rejected the philosophy of evolution apart from Divine
intervention, he nevertheless accepted the theory of uniformitarianism, and
taught that many of the upright
trees at Joggins and Sydney were entombed in their original positions of
Upright Trees from the Joggins area:
The drawing below shows an erect tree overlying the Joggins Main Coal seam. 17
This is the only tree from the Joggins area that Dawson depicted which also has attached roots. Details
with regard to its burial and their implications
are discussed below.
1. Shale and sandstone.
with Spirorbis attached;
2. Sandstone and shale, 8 feet.
3. Gray sandstone, 7 feet.
4. Gray shale, 4 feet.
5. Gray sandstone, 4 feet.
6. Gray shale, 6 inches. Prostrate
and erect trees, with rootlets;
leaves; Naiadites; Spirorbis
on the Plants.
7. Main coal-seam, 5 ft. in two
8. Underclay, with rootlets. (An
erect coniferous-? tree, rooted
on the shale, passes up through
15 feet of the sandstones and
shale.) p. 198
Comments on the 15 foot Tree:
The most obvious evidence for rapid burial is the tree itself: that it was buried before it had
time to decay, and that its top is as well-preserved as its base. The roots are about two feet long and
appear to be truncated. The fact that
its top was broken off is a clear indication it
was taller, perhaps by another 5-10 feet. The fact that its roots appear to be
truncated suggests that it may have been uprooted from its original place of growth, and re-deposited in this
Note also that this tree was thought by Dawson to be coniferous, and that such trees
(at Joggins) are almost
always found in "drift" strata, and are discussed in greater detail in Part Two of this paper.
Although it is possible that the roots of this tree were not broken
off, but only appear that way because the cliff-face below the tree may have fallen out. However, if this were the case we would expect
Dawson to have said so. We would also (still) expect to see
small rootlets below the tree, yet such are not depicted. This suggests either that there were no rootlets present
or that Dawson omitted them.
However, since he did
record such rootlets in the underclay of level 8, and in other
drawings it seems unlikely that he would
have omitted them unless there were none to record.
The Calamites: Calamites are extinct segmented plants similar to Equisetum
or Horsetail. Virtually all of the
Calamite fossils at Joggins are preserved as sandstone casts. In some cases the outer
bark appears as a thin layer of carbonaceous material. The fact that Calamites are preserved as casts is
an indication that they had hollow interiors. In the 1855 edition of
four of the Calamites are depicted
lower parts missing.
This suggests that the Calamites also may not be in their original positions of
growth but rather were part of the marine drift deposit of section
1. It also suggests that later drawings of
this section were altered to give the in situ interpretation for the Joggins
strata -- and thus the swamp theory of Coal
formation -- a greater
degree of acceptance.
Note: It is entirely possible the later altered drawings (from 1868 on) were simply an innocent mistake;
however, it is also possible that Dawson both knew about it and/or approved of the changes.
This may also be
reason for his seemingly arbitrary division
between the "Shale and sandstone" of
section 1, which according to Dawson contained drift-plant fragments, from the "Sandstone and
shale" of section 2.
Lack of Distinct Soils:
There is an absence of a distinct soil in sections 2 and 4, where the
Calamites and the tree roots are entombed. This is indicated by an almost complete
uniformity of the surrounding sediments, and by the fact that they are layered.
The fact that this strata displays a high degree of lateral
continuity suggests that there was little time between deposition of the layers. Even if
only a few years separated each layer then we would
expect to see evidence of this in the form of erosion between the
layers. The fact that we don't see this
suggests there was very little time
between the deposition of these layers.
Extremely Thick "Layers":
The fact that sections 3 and 5 are not stratified,
but rather composed of a single, homogeneous "layer"
suggests rapid deposition. The "layer" in
section 3 is seven feet
fact that the tree crosses the entire layer negates the possibility that it was deposited
thousands of years. This strongly suggests that these (two) layers
were probably laid down in
period of time -- perhaps only minutes, hours or days
The Coal: Although it is not apparent from the picture above, the coal in the
main seam is also layered or stratified -- an indication that the coal
itself was deposited as sedimentary layers of
decayed plant or animal remains. This layering is clearly evident in the
view of this drawing.
If this coal formed as a result of multiple forests, then we
should see evidence of this
in the form of bioturbation: which would (in theory)
erase or prevent layering. This
is what Dawson said with regard to the 'underclays' 21 so why should it
apply to the coals as well. Furthermore, if this coal resulted from a slow-growing forest,
then we would not expect fragile fossils such
as leaves and fern fronds to be well-preserved within the laminations,
yet they are. In fact, according to
Dawson, some of the coals at Joggins are composed almost entirely of leaves.
The Mysterious 40 Foot Fossil Tree:
"Let us now endeavor to
form an idea of the trees of this
singular genus. Imagine a tall branchless or sparsely branching trunk,
perhaps two feet in diameter, and thirty feet in height.
(One has been traced to the length of forty feet in the roof of the Joggins main coal-seam ).” 22 **
This is all the information Dawson provides. He doesn't say whether it was upright, or
inclined, or prostate; but, he does provide one valuable piece of information: its location.
Lyell's account (of the Joggins strata) :
"Wither I went to see a forest of fossil coal-trees,
the most wonderful phenomenon, perhaps that I have seen, so upright do the trees stand, or
so perpendicular to the strata ... trees 25 feet high, and
some have been seen of 40 feet, piercing the beds of sandstone and terminating downwards in the
same beds, usually coal.." 23 **
If these two trees were one in the same, then not only was this
tree upright, but it may have pierced more than just sandstone. This is because, according to Dawson:
it was "in the roof of the Joggins main
coal-seam." Note that the 15 foot tree pictured previously is itself in the roof of the Joggins Main
We are only given two more clues. One
is on page 165
of Acadian Geology (1868 Ed.) where Dawson says that there are "Erect trees at one level."
The other is Dawson's drawing above where "erect" trees are at two levels. Therefore, the 40 foot tree may have been at the same level as the 15 foot tree,
or it may have been
with the other stumps in section
6 of Dawson's drawing (section 7 below ). Therefore, if
these trees were one in the same, then the drawings below provide some idea what it may have looked like.
In either case, it would have passed through
the coal seam between sections 2 and 3 above. This seam is (or was) from one to four inches thick.
24 This strongly suggests that this seam, and
the strata around it, was deposited in rapid
sedimentary fashion. Perhaps this is why Dawson and Lyell provided so little information
and why neither of them provided an illustration?
In one publication, Dawson mentioned large prostrate trunks in the roof of the Joggins Main
coal seam: one of which was 30 feet long; 25 however,
Dawson never said whether the 40-foot tree was prostrate or erect. In spite of
in this regard, it seems that some
have interpreted (?) this to mean that the 40 foot tree was prostrate.26
Although this is possible, it seems more reasonable that the 40 foot
trees that were mentioned by
Dawson and Lyell were one in the same (tree), and
that Dawson didn't say it was prostrate because he didn't want to lie, yet he didn't want to say
it was upright because an upright
tree of this size that traversed multiple beds of strata (including a coal seam) would not have helped the in situ hypothesis for coal
formation: something that both Dawson and Lyell were trying to prove.
the first writing of this paper, it was discovered that Dr. Abraham Gesner also reported seeing a 40-foot fossil
tree in this strata as well, and he mentions it on p. 159 of a book he wrote on the Geology
and Mineralogy of Nova Scotia in 1836. So it is possible that Dawson and
Lyell were simply referring to what Dr. Gesner reported -- and/or by personal
communication with him.
If however, these
trees were not one in the same, then (from a geological perspective)
it means that we know virtually nothing about the largest upright tree ever
found at Joggins, since we would not even know were it was located.
If they in fact saw it themselves, then the fact that they provided so few
details may be an indication of their bias against the concept of catastrophic (or
rapid) formation of coal. This is also suggested, if not substantiated, by the fact
that -- in similar fashion -- almost nothing is known about the
upright 25 foot tree
found in the Joggins strata as well. Was this because its lowermost section
was perhaps embedded in limestone? 27
We may never know for certain as Dawson provided virtually no
details -- except to say that is was erect.
fossil tree was discovered in the coal measures of England. And in a
1966 paper on this subject, Rupke reported finding fossil trees as long as 25
The fact that the marine tubeworm, Spirorbis, is found in this section
strongly suggests that it was deposited under marine or brackish water
influence. With regard to the 1- 4 inch layer of coal in (section
2) of the previous drawing, and the strata overlying it we are told that:
"The roof contains Naiadites
carbonarius, Cythere, Spirorbis, fish-scales, and coprolites. The Coal is hard and laminated,
and has on its surface leaves of Cordaites and vascular bundles of ferns.
remarkable for containing scattered remains of a number of species
of fishes belonging to the genera Ctenoptychius, Diplodus, Palaeoniscus, and Rhizodus. The underclay
has rootlets of Stigmaria, and the bed below this has large roots of the
With regard to the
roof strata above the lower (Main) coal seams we are told that it:
"... has afforded Sigillaria catenoides
species, Alethopteris lonchitica, Cordaites borassifolia, Lepidodendron
elegans, Trigoncarpa, Naiadites, Spirorbis,
Cythere, fragments of insects. (?) The mineral Charcoal
contains bast tissue, Scalariform, epidermal, and cellular
tissues ... The roof is especially rich in Cordaites,
sometimes with Spirorbis adherent."
We are also told that the strata immediately above the
tree contains: "only drift vegetable fragments having Spirorbis attached...
we can be certain that it was a drift deposit.
Note the presence of roots in section 8 below
the lower coal, however there are none between the two seams. And that
if the presence of roots in the lower underclay is proof of forest growth, then what does their absence indicate? Could it be that the upper coal never was a forest,
but rather merely an organic drift deposit? If so, then perhaps the lower coal is too?
Out of Order Roots: In ref.
28 above we find "rootlets of Stigmaria"
above a bed with "large roots of
these deposits were in situ
then we would expect to find the larger
roots above the smaller rootlets.
Comments: The fact that the marine tubeworm Spirorbis (discussed in Part
is found in this strata strongly suggests a marine influence. The presence of leaves and insects and drifted material in the roof suggests that the roof strata cannot be an
in situ deposit but rather the result of
catastrophic influences. The fact that the roots of the tree (and some of the Calamites) appear to be truncated suggests that they were deposited while floating upright. The fact that the coals are laminated is also
suggests a sedimentary origin. The lack of distinct soils and the
presence of extremely thick layers also suggests a rapid depositional environment. Together this evidence suggests that
this whole section of strata is of catastrophic origin.
Another section that
was thought to be in situ is depicted below and is of a 9 foot tree between shale (above) and
coal (below), along with Stigmaria rootlets, Calamites, and the stem of an unknown plant.
Dawson, 1854, Quart. Jour. Geol. Soc. Lon., Vol. 10, p. 21;
Acadian Geology, 1855 and 1868 Eds.
1. Underclay, with rootlets of Stigmaria, resting on gray shale, with two thin coaly seams.
2. Gray sandstone, with erect trees, Calamites, and other stems: 9 feet.
3. Coal, with erect tree on its surface: 6 inches.
4. Underclay, with Stigmaria rootlets.
(c) Stigmaria roots.
(b) Stem of plant undetermined.
(d) Erect trunk, 9 feet high.
Dawson believed that:
"The Stigmaria-underclay" (in
section 4) "shows
the existence of a Sigillaria forest, the soil of which collected sufficient vegetable matter to
inches of coal, which probably represents a peaty bog several
feet in thickness." 31
In Dawson's opinion this strata was deposited as follows:
"On this peaty soil grew
the trees represented by the stump of ... charcoal mentioned above, and which were probably coniferous. This tree, being about 1 foot in diameter, must have required about fifty years
for its growth ... It was then killed, perhaps by the inundation of the bog. During
(its) decay ... Sigillariae, d, grew... to the diameter of two feet,
when they were overwhelmed by sediment, which buried their roots to a
depth of about 18 inches. At this level Calamites, a, and another Sigillaria began to grow, the former
attaining a diameter of
4 inches, the latter a diameter of about a foot. ... These ... were in... turn imbedded in somewhat
coarser sediment, but so gradually that ... trees with Stigmarian roots, c, grew at two higher levels before the accumulation of mud and sand attained a
depth of 9 feet, at which depth the original large Sigillariae, that had grown
immediately over the coal,
were broken off, and their hollow trunks filled with sand ..."
Note: Dawson did not include some of the trees described above
in his drawing of this strata, such as the 1 foot diameter tree and the 4-inch
Dawson claimed that the trees and plants in this strata were buried in their original positions of growth
or in situ. Several aspects suggest otherwise, such as the following:
Lack of Distinct Soils:
The most obvious is the lack of a distinct soil in section 2. Instead there is a remarkable uniformity in the layering.
Lack of Large Roots:
The small singular rootlets of section 4
are of the same size and shape as the
Stigmaria rootlets (c) in the upper part of section 2. If
the lower underclay did at one time support a 'Sigillaria forest,' it seems a bit odd that the only preserved evidence for this are tiny rootlets. One would think that at least some of the larger
roots (from the 2 foot diameter trees) would have extended beyond the bottom of the coal, yet
they appear to be absent.
Note: From Logan's and Dawson's bed by bed review of the Joggins strata, there appear to be a lot fewer beds containing large roots than those with "rootlets", and even fewer beds that have large roots
with attached rootlets. 32
It is also worth noting what Dawson does not tell us. For example, he does not tell us whether these
roots from the 1 foot diameter tree (not depicted) had rootlets attached.
This is almost certainly because they didn't, which is why he used the term "distinct" to describe how
they were "marked" (i.e. Stigmaria roots get their name from the "distinct" scar marks left
behind by their "missing" rootlets). Dawson also doesn't say anything about the three upright Calamite stems
are missing their lower portions.
Why were the stems preserved but not the roots? More importantly, how were these stems preserved in upright position with no roots to hold them up?
This suggests that these stems were
buried while floating upright. The only other possibility is that their roots
fell out of the cliff-face. However, if this were the case, Lyell and Dawson should have said so. The fact that they didn't is an indication that they were actually missing.
Such instances are clearly depicted in the writings of Brown and are discussed
later; however, unlike Dawson and Lyell, Brown readily admits that this was the case.
In the above (second) paragraph describing this strata Dawson mentions "trees with Stigmaria roots,
"c" that grew "at two higher
levels" before being buried in mud and sand. With regard to
these trees, all that was left was their small root-base. This seems odd,
considering the fact that their bases are just as big, if not bigger than the
"a" stem to the right.
Lack of Erosion: Except for the 6 inch layer of coal, the strata is repetitive and displays a high degree of
lateral continuity. The fact that there is no erosion between the layers
suggestive of cyclic continuous deposition.
Uniformity of Direction:
All except one of the stems are sloping toward the left; this suggests that a current was present during deposition.
Underclay Although it is unclear in the
drawing above, the detailed
view clearly shows that the
underclay in section 4 is laminated or layered. This suggests it was
probably not a soil, but rather simply a layered sedimentary deposit with
embedded rootlets. For if this were a soil then bioturbation should have
destroyed the layering. Dawson, himself, concurred with such reasoning
when he stated that:
"Beds of clay containing roots of
plants in situ, and destitute or
nearly destitute of lamination, are designated in the Section 'Underclays.' As these are fossil soils they will be... considered in
connection with the vegetable matter
which accumulated upon them."
Fragile Fossils: Dawson further tells us that:
"the erect trees
contain reptilian remains... and remains of insects." 34
We are also told that one of
these trees was a sandstone cast which: "contained
a large quantity of ... fragments of ... carbonized wood,
leaves of Naeggerathia or Poacites."
Sediments: Another obstacle to the in situ interpretation of this
section is the fact that these trees were filled-in with sandstone (see in-text
quote of ref. 31 on previous page). How were they filled up with sandstone
when the bed immediately above them (bed #1) consists of gray shale and (above
this an) underclay?
Comments: The fact that the underclay (with rootlets) in section 4 is laminated suggests
that it may not have been a soil, but rather simply a deposit with floating
upright rootlets -- or with rootlets that were "dangling" down from the
plant mass above from which the coal was derived. The fact that fragile leaves were
along with upright stems, with no roots to hold them in place, suggests they were buried
while floating upright. The fact that the
trees were filled with different sediments than those which were immediately
above (or around) their snapped off trunks is also suggestive of
transport. Again the evidence suggests that the upright plants, trees, and rootlets in the above section
are (probably) not in situ, but the result of
drifted material that was washed in.
Almost all of the roots and stems
to the right of the tree above have been sheared off horizontally.
The 9-foot tree has also suffered the same fate. This is quite common with fossil roots and trees.
If this were the result of
decay, then the contact along the top (of such trees) should be uneven (or jagged) rather than
flat. Rupke 36
Hörbiger 37 suggested that this might
be the result of the upper (now missing) portions being frozen and subsequently
"snapped" off by an incoming tidal wave. Another
possibility is that they were simply snapped off by moving debris during a flood. Such a scenario is possible
when considering that these trees (and their roots) were in the fragile state of being
hollow (or semi-hollow), yet partially filled with sediments. This is illustrated in the diagrams that follow.
In the first set of diagrams the assumption is made that
these Lycopod trees were part of large "Floating Forests" (as proposed by
and that after being torn from their forest-mats they sank and began
filling up with sediments. However, prior to becoming heavy-laden with
sediments, they would be carried along by strong currents before coming to their final resting place.
The second set simply shows how such hollow trees may have been snapped off, and subsequently filled with
sediments that are different from those which surround them.
| 1) Upright tree rests
comfortably on bottom
2) Base of (hollow) tree
is buried by sediments.
|| 3) Log (or
tree and breaks off upper
portion. Base remains in
4) Hollow trunk is filled
with sediments (from
above) that are different
from those surrounding it.
River Deposits ?
It has been reported that the upright trees at Joggins are the result of river deposits. 39, 40
"...there are upright
trees up to a few metres tall preserved mainly in river-deposited sandstones. These trees have extensive
root systems with rootlets that penetrate into the underlying
sediment ... Dawson ... rejected anything but an in situ formation for these fossils, and
his interpretation is closely similar to current interpretations of sediments deposited on river
Consider also the following comment by Ferguson:
"Closer examination of the tilted layers of
sandstone reveals they are not as regular as they first seemed, but every so often
have very obvious depressions in their under sides. These are ancient river channels
which cut into the... accumulating flood plane deposits..."
off, it is quite possible
that Dawson was wrong. Also, while there are channel
sandstone deposits at
Joggins, the assertion that these are "ancient river channels,"
is highly questionable. It seems more likely that they may simply
be "runoff channels" where the water "ran off" the
freshly deposited strata and back into the ocean as the tides were
receding. This is discussed in more detail in the next section.
evidence for the river/flood plain scenario is summed up by Ferguson as follows:
"Many animals lived and swam in Carboniferous seas,
but the rocks at Joggins were formed ... as the result of river
action, or in freshwater lakes that developed from flooding
This is because
"The fossils that
are found in these rocks are from land-dwelling or freshwater creatures."
no truly marine or even estuarine
fauna occurs in the Coal Measures of the Joggins area."
Problems with the
Lacustrine / River Deposit Scenario
Channel Sandstone Deposits: According to Helder:
"the channel sandstones are relatively uncommon at the
lower levels near Joggins where so many fossilized trees are
Duff and Walton
also studied a 500 m section of Logan's Division 4 Coals at Joggins and made the following remarks with regard to the channel
little doubt that the sheet sands are genetically
with the channel sands. Only rarely ... is a lens or 'reef'
of channel sand developed without affecting the thickness and / or
number of adjacent sheets. Commonly the multi-leaf sheet sands are thicker when
close to a channel sand."
"The connection between channel
and sheet sands is further reinforced by the observation that: A) there tends to be
more leaves in the sandstones in the vicinity of the channel and B) in at least one
sandstone ... the
individual leaves are thicker near the channel." 45 **
They also state that:
size of the channels in cross-section ... is
usually small and there are a number of examples of sheet sands passing through
erosional contacts into channels."
For example: "... in one
layer the parallel laminae appear to pass laterally into large-scale cross
lamination." 45 **
that: "We have not seen in
any of the channels the simple upward change in the
size of trough cross-bedded units accompanied by diminution of
grain size described from other fluvial successions..." 45 **
Extensive, Parallel strata: The overwhelming majority of deposits at
Joggins were laid down in sheets. This is evident in
the high degree of lateral continuity of the layers in virtually
every drawing of this strata.
Regarding the Joggins strata Archer, et al. remark that the
sandstones ... have a high degree of lateral continuity,"
and that the limestones are
Calder gives figures of between 4-9 km wide 47
for the Cumberland area strata. And Skilliter
48 reports that the Forty Brine coal seam and associated strata have been traced "40 km
inland in mine workings and drill core
Several hundred kilometers to the north lies the Sydney Basin, which is part of the Maritime Basin. This area is home
to the Backpit seam which, according to White, Gibling,
and Kalkreuth, can be traced laterally "from northwest to southeast, for more than 45 km..."
Influences: Several lines of evidence (not widely
known to the public) are also indicative of marine influences in the
Joggins area strata. This is in the form of pyritous
beds, coals with high sulfur content, marine tubeworms, and other
fossils. Each of these will be discussed in greater detail in the
following sections (and in Part II) of this paper.
Comments: Such revelations raise serious doubts about the notion that these were ancient
river channels. The fact that some of
the sheet laminae pass laterally through "erosional"
contacts is cause to
doubt whether such channels are erosion contacts at all. The fact that they are genetically connected with the
sheet sands implies, or suggests, that they were formed at the same
time. The fact that many sheets were deposited over such wide areas also suggests that
this strata was not the result of
but evidence of major incursions by the
Below is another section of
strata from the Joggins area that was thought to be in situ.
Dawson : 1854, Quart.
J. Geol. Soc. Lon., vol. 10, p. 29
and Acadian Geology, 1855 p. 175; 1868, p 200.
2. Shaly coal, 1
3. Underclay with rootlets, 1foot 2 inches.
4. Gray sandstone passing downwards into shale, 3 feet. Erect tree with Stigmaria roots (e) on the coal.
5. Coal, 1 inch.
6. Underclay with roots, 10 inches.
7. Gray sandstone, 1 foot 5 inches. Stigmaria rootlets continued from bed above; erect
8. Gray shale, with pyrites. Flattened plants.
from Dawson's bed by bed description 50 is as
*Sandstone, gray. Rootlets of Stigmaria.
................................2 ft. 3 in.
Shale, gray. An erect tree rooted in bed below. ...................
20 ft. 0 in.
*Bituminous limestone. Rootlets of Stigmaria, Modiola,
..................................................................................0 ft. 2 in.
Shale, carbonaceous, with ironstone balls. Poacites, &c.
........0 ft. 9 in.
*Underclay. Rootlets of Stigmaria.
..........................................0 ft. 10 in. (1)
ft. 0 in.
*Sandstone, gray argillaceous, passing downward into shale
and bituminous shale. An erect tree; Stigmaria roots
ft 0 in. (4)
1 in. (5)
...............................................................0 ft. 10 in.
Sandstone, gray. Erect Calamites and Stigmaria rootlets
descending from bed above.
....................................................1 ft. 5 in. (7)
Shale, gray, pyritous. Numerous flattened
plants.......................4 ft. 6 in.
Coal, very pyritous.
Asterisks denote beds that possessed Roots or Rootlets.
( ) Numbers in brackets denote beds from figure above.
We are also told that:
"Group XXVII is a... series of underclays and
their accompaniments, including eleven terrestrial soil surfaces, five thin coals, erect plants at
four levels, and two bituminous limestones. It much resembles some of
the groups at
the commencement of the section, and like some of these is
very pyritous, marking the action of sea-water to a greater degree than in
those central parts of the measures..."
Regarding the tree in
the figure above we are told that :
"The roots of this tree are casts in sandstone, probably from
the surface of the sand surrounding its upper part, but the stump itself is filled
with shaly clay from the underclay above." 51 (pp. 28-29) **
Dawson believed that the stump, the stems, and all of the roots in the section above
again this is questionable for the following reasons:
From the quotes above we note that this
section contains beds that are "very
and that this is an indication that "sea-water"
had access to them. This suggests that
we are not
dealing with a local freshwater river flood but one that involves the ocean.
Sediments in Tree different than those around it:
From the above quote we note that
the roots of
this tree are casts of sandstone, while the "Additional
Information" (below the
drawing) tell us that the
sediments around its base are shale. Also, the quote above tells us
that the stump is "filled with shaly
yet the comments associated with section 4 tell us that the
sediments around it are:
sandstone passing downwards into shale."
In other words, the roots of this
tree were filled with sandstone,
but the tree itself with shaly clay. Dawson wants us to believe that the sand around the top of the
tree poured over its top and filled up what was left of its roots. This is
possible; however, this also means that shale around
its base did not enter into the tree. Dawson says that the shaly clay inside the tree
came from the "underclay"
above it. This is also possible, however, it would mean that the underclay
in section 3 is actually a shaly
underclay. Again (at first glance) this
The only problem with such reasoning is that it doesn't account for the
extremely sharp contact above the
tree. Such a contact is
not the result of (slow) decay, but rather an indication that the tree was
prior to the deposition of section 3. The fact that the upper contact is so sharp is also an
indication that the
tree was already hollow. This leaves only two possibilities: Either the tree was filled with 3 feet
of shaly clay before it was snapped off, or it was filled
up afterwards. If it was filled up
afterwards then the strata
immediately above the tree should be bent downwards as a result of pouring into and
filling up the hollow tree. But this is not what we observe
in Dawson's drawing. Therefore it appears that the
sediments inside the tree did not come from the underclay in section 3, and suggests
that this tree was transported while in a partially filled-up state.
If the above plant remains are in growth position, then
why are the individual rootlets separated from the larger (Stigmaria) roots, plants, or trees to which they were once attached?
Missing Roots: Even more baffling are the Calamite stems in section 7.
The fact that their roots are missing,
yet they are erect suggests that they were also buried while floating upright.
The only other possibilities are:
that the roots were not preserved, or 2) that they fell out
of the cliff. The first scenario seems
highly unlikely considering that many other rootlets were preserved in this section.. The
second scenario requires that either Dawson failed to notice this, or that he failed to say so: both
of which seem unlikely considering his attention to detail and his eagerness to prove that such
deposits were the result of ancient forests
inundated by multiple floods.
The roots of the stump also appear to be missing--even though the coal is only one inch thick. Some
will say that the roots of this tree are hidden in coal. While this scenario
is "possible," the fact that none of
them penetrated into the ancient "soil" underclay also suggests that this
tree stump is not in
situ, but rather has
Some will say that the rootlets (from the tree)
are penetrating into the "underclay"; however, if this
were the case then they should be radiating out at various angles from their main
stems. Instead they are all pointing
down as if (they were) broken off and subsequently reburied while floating upright,
while (at the same time) the main root-stems are nowhere to be found.
Notice also the dots at the bottom left side of the stump; these are scar marks left by rootlets that were
time attached. The fact that these (rootlets) were not preserved suggests two possibilities:
1) that this soil was not conducive to the preservation of tree roots;
or 2) that this tree was
uprooted. The fact that similar scar
marks and roots are also missing from the right side of the tree, and that many
individual rootlets were found
intact within this strata suggests that
scenario #2 is more probable.
Such roots with pit marks are referred to as
Stigmaria and are quite common at Joggins. Regarding
these Dawson states:
in question are accordingly penetrated by innumerable long rootlets now in a coaly state, but retaining enough
of their form to enable us to recognize them as belonging to a peculiar root,
the Stigmaria, of very frequent occurrence in the coal measures,
and ... now known to have belonged to a singular tree, the
Sigillaria, found in the same deposits ... The Stigmaria has derived its name from the regularly arranged
pits or spots left by its rootlets, which proceeded from it on all sides."
Shale "Underclay" Above Coal:
Dawson refers to section
1 in the Drawing above as a "Shale";
however, in his bed by bed review (in the same publication) he calls it an
"Underclay." This bed (1) is 10 inches
thick and is located above the (1 foot) Coal of Section 2.
In fact, beds designated as "underclays" are usually
not composed of
clay, but rather shale or sandstone; however, in some cases they are clay or
Lesquereux's in-text quote (ref. 125 of Part II).
Fragile Fossils: Above the 10 inch Shale / Underclay is a
9 inch carbonaceous Shale which contains
balls and Poacites -- long striated leaves that look similar to cornstalk
leaves, now referred to as
Cordaites. The fact that leaves were preserved in this shale suggests that it
was deposited rapidly. The fact
that Dawson refers to the 'Underclay' below it also as
shale suggests that these two shales were one in the
same with rootlets in the lower portion and leaves in the upper.
An Erect Tree "Rooted" in Limestone:
Dawson's bed by bed review
also reveals that there is a 2-inch Bituminous
limestone immediately above the shales just discussed. Above this is a 20 foot thick gray shale with
"An erect tree rooted in bed below." This is also mentioned in his earlier
publication where, with regard to these beds, Dawson tells us that:
"It will be observed that one of the
bituminous limestones in this group has been converted into a Stigmaria-underclay and supports an
erect tree." 53
The above details are significant for several reasons. First because limestone usually forms in the
ocean and is not normally thought of as an adequate soil for root growth. Second because of
what Dawson does not say: i.e.
He does not say that this tree had attached roots, but rather
that it was rooted in limestone. However, from
the quote above, it appears that this tree was merely supported by this
bed. This is
significant because we are
told that this bed had rootlets of Stigmaria in it. Therefore, it appears
that we have a bed of limestone capable
of preserving rootlets, yet in it is a tree without roots.
Comments: The underclay in
the Figure above was capable of preserving roots, but the fact that it was so selective in doing so suggests that something is amiss with the
in situ interpretation
for this section of
strata as well. Once again we have a section of strata
from the Joggins area that has upright trees, plants, and
roots; and once again it seems unlikely that they are in
probable that they represent uprooted
and transported material deposited by
The Sydney Area:
The problem of upright trees (and plants) with their roots missing was also
encountered by Brown.54 Consider the drawings below. Figure 6 is located about 29
feet above the Indian Cove Seam, or approximately 370 feet below the Main Coal
Seam near Sydney.
1849, Quart. Jour. Geol. Soc. Lon., Vol. 6, p. 129.
With regard to this bed Brown states that:
"About eight feet higher in the section,
several erect Calamites,
from 4 to 8 feet in length and 3 to 5 inches in
diameter occur in
the micaceous sandstone No. 88. They do not present any traces of
With regard to Fig. 8 below Brown states
"A long interval now follows without any
erect trees, the next in order being Calamites without roots
in the sandstone No. 299, which is 735 feet above the Main Coal No. 188." 55 **
After Brown, 1849, Quart. Jour. Geol. Soc. Lon., Vol. 6, p. 129.
Both of the above drawings clearly display upright plants and trees with their roots missing.
With regard to the Calamites Mr. Brown plainly tells says that this is the case; however, it appears that this is the case with the trees as well. In both figures there is virtually no place where their roots might be
concealed (such as in a coal seam). This suggests that they too are missing--probably as a result of being uprooted.
Notice also the strange-looking tree
above section 302 in Fig. 8 above. How did it come to be bent over like that? Some may say that
it simply grew this
way; however such an explanation doesn't explain why the tree left
behind no traces of roots (or even rootlets) in section 302. A more likely scenario is that it was transported here by floodwaters, and that it already possessed several feet of sediments when it became imbedded in section
303. As described earlier, this tree was probably struck by floating
debris, such as a log-mat, when the surrounding sediments were at (the top of) section 303. However, since the tree itself
most likely (?) contained sediments that extended above this, it didn't snap off
completely, but rather was broken it two places. The lowermost break caused the upper (sediment-filled) portion to fall over; however, because the
uppermost portion was
not yet filled with
sediment, and was (in this scenario) only partially broken, it floated back to an upright position-- where it was
again enveloped by sediment to the middle of section 306. At this point it was again struck by floating debris,
and its uppermost portion was snapped off.
Lets look at another
stump; however, this one had both Stigmaria roots and rootlets attached. The stump below is from the roof of
the Sydney Main Coal Seam. Its roots have the distinctive scar marks left by the rootlets that have broken off; however, some of the rootlets
"Fig. 1. Section showing the position of the tree above the coal seam, with the
... lengths of two of the principal roots so far as they could be distinctly traced."
After Brown, 1847, Quart. J. Geol. Soc. Lon., Vol. 4, p. 47.
Brown believed that this tree was in situ even though he found "no visible traces of rootlets in the
nor did he find any on the underside of the roots--even though the areolae were
and more distinct upon the under than the upper sides of the roots."
Brown also tells us that one of the roots touched the coal
at about five feet from the trunk. This means that the area immediately under the trunk was above the
coal -- even though Brown does not indicate in either of these drawings exactly
where the coal begins, Note that the areolae (i.e. the pit marks left by broken off rootlets)
are present all the way up to the trunk.
After Brown, 1847, Quart. Jour. Geol. Soc. London, Vol. 4, p. 47.
In spite of not finding any rootlets on the under side of this tree Brown nevertheless proclaimed that :
"...there can be no doubt that (its
penetrated deeply into the underlying mass of vegetable matter from which the tree derived
its chief nutriment..."