'Fossil Forests' of Nova Scotia :
A Review of the Literature
Summary of this Paper
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 many 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 state. Similar 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.
This paper examines, or rather re-examines, various individual sections of the Joggins and Sydney strata that were -- at the time of publication -- said to represent in situ forests which were inundated again and again by what are often referred to as localized river floods.
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 by water, perhaps by a Worldwide 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 too restrictive 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 fossil 1 is sometimes now 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 seams. 2 Upright 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; 4 erect roots and rootlets occur at many more "levels." 4 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. 7 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 rootlets 3 and many, if not most, rootlets are buried individually: unattached to any tree, or larger root.8, 9 Fragile fossils such as leaves are also common in the Joggins and Sidney strata.10 Animal 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 Joggins. 11
Obscure Journals and Old Books
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." 13 **
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: ...” 14
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 of years 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 conclusions so that they always fall into an evolution-based / semi-uniformitarian / Old Earth philosophy. Others pretend as if they won the 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 perhaps endanger 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 "religious" 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 societal influence.
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, and although 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 growth.
Examples 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. Plants
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 strata. 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 Acadian Geology, four of the Calamites are depicted with their 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 the 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.
Horizontal Strata: 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. 18
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 thick. The fact that the tree crosses the entire layer negates the possibility that it was deposited slowly over hundreds or thousands of years. This strongly suggests that these (two) layers were probably laid down in a very short period of time -- perhaps only minutes, hours or days apart.
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 detailed view of this drawing. 19, 20
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 not 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 seam.
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 his silence 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.
After 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.
A similar 38 foot upright 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 meters.
Marine Organisms: 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. It is 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 same." 28 **
With regard to the roof strata above the lower (Main) coal seams we are told that it:
"... has afforded Sigillaria catenoides and other 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." 29 **
We are also told that the strata immediately above the tree contains: "only drift vegetable fragments having Spirorbis attached... ," 30 therefore we can be certain that it was a drift deposit.
Missing Roots: 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 the same." If these deposits were in situ then we would expect to find the larger roots above the smaller rootlets.
Additional Comments: The fact that the marine tubeworm Spirorbis (discussed in Part II) 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; Also 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.
(a) Calamites. (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 form 6 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 ..." 31 **
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 diameter Sigillaria.
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
Missing Roots: It is also worth noting what Dawson does not tell us. For example, he does not tell us whether these "distinctly marked" Stigmaria 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 "a" that 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.
Missing Trees: 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 is 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.
Laminated 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." 33 **
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 vegetable fragments ..." in the form of "carbonized wood, leaves of Naeggerathia or Poacites?, and stems of Calamite." 35
Different 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?
Additional 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 preserved 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 and 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 Scheven), 38 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) The tree to the far left is
dislodged from its place of
growth as part of a "Floating
Forest" by Flood-waters,
and /or Hurricane winds.
2) Ends of roots break off--
allowing water to enter into
the trunk. The tree sinks and
is subsequently punctured
by floating and rolling debris.
Mud-laden water enters
into the trunk and begins
filling its roots with fine
sediment as it rests on the
continuously rising bottom.
3, 4) Before becoming fixed
in its final resting place,
the tree is lifted from the
bottom and dragged
along by strong currents.
5) Eventually the current
slows down, and/or the
tree becomes so heavy-
laden with sediments
that it remains fixed in its
final resting place.
6) Before it is completely
buried, the water level
drops and it is struck by a
floating tree or log- mat --
snapping off its upper
portion and leaving behind
a stump that contains
from those surrounding it.
1) Upright tree rests un-
comfortably on bottom
2) Base of (hollow) tree
is buried by sediments.
3) Log (or log-mat) strikes
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
For example, MacRae 40 states that:
"...there are upright giant lycopod 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 floodplains..."
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..." 41 **
First 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.
The actual 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 rivers." 42 **
This is because "The fossils that are found in these rocks are from land-dwelling or freshwater creatures." 42 **Bell's assessment was similar: i.e. "... no truly marine or even estuarine fauna occurs in the Coal Measures of the Joggins area." 43 **
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 found." 44 **
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 deposits :
"There is little doubt that the sheet sands are genetically connected with the channel sands. Only rarely ... is a lens or 'reef' of channel sand developed without affecting the thickness and / or the number of adjacent sheets. Commonly the multi-leaf sheet sands are thicker when ... close to a channel sand." 45 **
And: "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: "The 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 **
And 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 "Sheet sandstones ... have a high degree of lateral continuity," and that the limestones are "strikingly linear." 46 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 deposits." 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..." 49
Marine 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.
Additional 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 river deposits, but evidence of major incursions by the sea.
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 foot.
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 Calamites.
8. Gray shale, with pyrites. Flattened plants.
Additional Information from Dawson's bed by bed description 50 is as follows:
*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,
Cypris. ..................................................................................0 ft. 2 in.
Shale, carbonaceous, with ironstone balls. Poacites, &c. ........0 ft. 9 in.
*Underclay. Rootlets of Stigmaria. ..........................................0 ft. 10 in. (1)
Coal, Shaly ............................................................................1 ft. 0 in. (2)
*Underclay. Indistinct Rootlets.................................................1 ft. 2 in. (3)
*Sandstone, gray argillaceous, passing downward into shale
and bituminous shale. An erect tree; Stigmaria roots ................3 ft 0 in. (4)
Coal .......................................................................................0 ft 1 in. (5)
*Underclay. Rootlets ...............................................................0 ft. 10 in. (6)
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. (8)
Coal, very pyritous. .................................................................0 ft. 8 in.
* 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..." 51 (p. 28) **
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 were in situ; however, again this is questionable for the following reasons:
Pyritous Beds: From the quotes above we note that this section contains beds that are "very pyritous" and that this is an indication that "sea-water" has 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 clay," yet the comments associated with section 4 tell us that the sediments around it are: "Gray 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 appears possible.
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 snapped off 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.
Individual Rootlets: 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: 1) 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 been transported.
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 at one 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:
"The underclays 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." 52 **
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 limestone. See 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 ironstone 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.
Additional 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 situ, but rather probable that they represent uprooted and transported material deposited by floodwaters.
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.
After Brown, 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 roots" 54 **
With regard to Fig. 8 below Brown states that:
"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 remained intact.
"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 coal," 56 nor did he find any on the underside of the roots--even though the areolae were "much larger and more distinct upon the under than the upper sides of the roots." 56 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 roots) penetrated deeply into the underlying mass of vegetable matter from which the tree derived its chief nutriment..." 56
In other words, he believed that is was buried in its original growth position.
Note Brown's use of the word "deeply" with regard to his opinion of how the roots (from the above tree) are said to have penetrated into this 6 foot thick seam of coal. This is significant because when other large trees are resting on top of thin seams of coal, their associated (and usually missing) "roots" almost never seem to penetrate very deep -- if indeed they are discernable at all.
We also note that the attached rootlets are all pointing up. The ones on the under side were all missing. This was either because: 1) they all fell out when the coal below the tree was removed; 2) because they were all destroyed when the stump fell to the ground (after the props were taken out); or 3) because this tree was uprooted prior to deposition in this strata. According to Brown, there was "no doubt" that it was in situ; however, again there is reason to question such a conclusion.
For example, note that the majority of the roots were above the coal. In this regard Mr. Brown traced two of the roots and found that they appeared to enter the seam at a distance of about 30 inches from the trunk. This is significant for several reasons. First because it means that not all of the rock strata beneath the tree had been removed. Had this been the case then Mr. Brown would not have been able to determine this distance. It also means that Mr. Brown (when tracing these roots to their termination points) should have seen rootlets on the underside of these roots. The fact that he didn't suggests that this tree was not in situ.
Mr. Brown also points out that "the roots are filled with dark bluish shale arranged in nearly horizontal layers..." 56 Commenting on this he said they "must have been perfectly hollow before the deposition of mud within began." 56 In addition, he found "fern-leaves... interposed between the layers," and noted that these "could only have obtained access thereto by settling down through the trunk above." 56 Brown also made a cross-sectional drawing of one of these roots that is depicted below.
After Brown, Richard, 1847, Quart. Jour. Geol. Soc. Lon., Vol. 4, p. 49; Fig 7.
Additional Comments: Once again we have an upright tree above a coal seam that may, or may not be in growth position. The fact that almost all of the roots were above the coal and that all of the rootlets on the underside of the main roots were missing suggests that they were likely broken off -- the result of a tree that was uprooted prior to being deposited in this section.
Extensive Roots Systems Or Root Systems Extensively Missing?
MacRae 57 has asserted that the fossil lycopod trees at Joggins have "extensive root systems" -- thus giving the impression that most of them do. Gibling says that "MANY" upright trees at Joggins have attached roots, while Ferguson says the roots only appear to be missing.
For example, Gibling has said that:
"In many cases, only parts of upright trees are seen (other parts have fallen out or the basal part is not exposed, or is covered with fallen debris), so one can't tell. However, I can say that MANY that I have seen have well developed root systems associated with them." 58 **
Gibling also said that:
"It would not be an easy matter to find roots from an individual tree actually penetrating down into the coal: much of the coal could include root material now compacted down. Where trees are sitting atop a coal, one generally assumes that they were originally growing on the peatland surface. However, it is easy to see roots penetrating down from many trees where the upright trees are resting on a surface of sandstone or shale." 58 **
Ferguson addressed the missing root problem by saying that it applies to the "longer tree stumps," and that:
"If you examine the bases of such stumps closely, you should see the position of the crushed roots and the rootlets that radiate out from them ... Sometimes you can even trace extensive root systems for many metres from their bases... In some cases the sediment- filled root systems spread out from the base of the trunks over a radius of 5 metres or more." 59 **
Such assurances may satisfy some; however, there are significant reasons to question whether
anything close to a majority of
upright fossil trees in the Joggins strata possess either (attached) roots that are not
truncated, or roots with rootlets attached. For example, after describing numerous beds
in Logan's Division 4 Coals at Joggins--including at least 21 different levels with erect trees and
"This is the first instance we have here yet met with of the distinct connexion of an erect ribbed stem with its Stigmaria roots." 61 **
In other words, only about 1 out of 50 upright trees in the Joggins strata has both roots and attached rootlets. This number was derived by counting the upright trees that Dawson recorded in each of these 21 different "levels."
The missing root problem was addressed by Dawson, himself, in 1853 with the following statement:
"It has been asked, in reference to the Joggins section,* how it happens that so many erect trunks show no roots, especially since the great number of fossil soils would lead us to anticipate that the former were less likely to be preserved than the latter."
"usually more perishable than the sandstones and arenaceous shales which contain the erect trunks" and that "The roots ... have often been compressed or converted into coal... There are cases, however, in which the Stigmaria roots are preserved in a horizontal position, and with scarcely any flattening." 62
This answer has serious problems. For example, it does nothing to explain why many of the underclays have individual rootlets, yet relatively few larger roots. It also doesn't explain why many of the larger Stigmaria roots are found with pit-marks all over them -- indicating that they once had rootlets. Such problems are almost always ignored or minimized with statements to the effect that the roots were "compressed" or "converted into coal", or simply were not preserved. Such assertions are not without problems.
For example, if the base of a tree is juxtaposed to a coal seam, and this seam is several inches thick, then Dawson's answer has some validity. For in such cases it is quite possible that its attached roots (if there were any) would be "hidden" in the seam. This is especially true in instances where the coal is not laminated, but rather homogeneous. Even then, it only applies to cases where a tree is sitting directly on top of a coal seam.
In such cases where the base of the tree is in sandstone, shale, or clay, the above scenario does not apply. For here we should see evidence of both roots and rootlets attached to trees that are upright. It is the author's contention that such cases are the exception and not the rule, and that when no traces of roots are visible it is because there were none present to preserve. Such a view (though based on sound principles) is difficult for many to accept due to philosophical reasons (i.e. evolutionary bias), for it would mean that perhaps none of the upright fossil trees in the Nova Scotia strata (if not the whole world) were buried in situ: thus giving credibility to the Genesis account of Noah and his Ark and a worldwide Flood.
Consider also what Lyell and Bell had to say about the missing root problem in the Joggins strata. With regard to the shales above the coals Lyell said that:
"It was also observed that, while in the overlying shales, or 'roof' of the coal, ferns and trunks of trees abound without any Stigmariae and are flattened and compressed, those singular plants of the underclay most commonly retain their natural forms, unflattened and branching freely, and sending out their slender rootlets, formerly thought to be leaves, through the mud in all directions." 63
Here Lyell tries to make the case that the mud-laden underclays were soils; however, in so doing, he admits that the overlying strata (above the coals) abound in drift-plants and trees that are missing their roots. It is also observed that he only uses the term "rootlets" when describing the underclays. This is noteworthy because it also agrees with Dawson's overall assessment that such trees are only rarely found with both Stigmaria rootlets (or "appendages") attached. This is evident by the fact that neither Dawson or Lyell could find even one such specimen from the Joggins area strata that they deemed worthy to draw, but -- for such a specimen -- resorted to the Sydney strata and the writings of Brown. 64 This tree is discussed in Part II of this paper. See also The Underclays of Joggins.
Walter A. Bell also noticed that the majority of upright fossil trees at Joggins do not possess attached roots. Consider his remarks below.
"...Thirty-five Sigillarian upright trees were observed in the Coal Measures of the Joggins section. Of those examined, three contained the remains of land reptiles or of land snails, while three others were observed with Stigmarian roots still attached. The general absence of roots may be explained by the fact that most of the trees have their bases directly over a thin underlying coaly or carbonaceous seam, indicating a probable decay of the roots and reduction into coaly matter. All of the erect Sigillaria had their basal terminations in shales which have little or no drift material other than fragments of leaves and Stigmarian rootlets." 65 **
This brings up an interesting question: If the above shales were able to preserve fragments of leaves and rootlets, then why were they unable to preserve the larger Stigmarian roots to which rootlets should be attached?
Bell asserts that most of the bases of upright trees directly overlie a "thin coaly or carbonaceous seam." Again, the proposition that all evidence of roots would vanish simply because a thin seam (or film) of carbonaceous matter is below the tree seems unlikely in light of the fact that most large trees possess large roots that grow both out from the tree and (down) into the "soil." This is evident from the subsequent drawing (Fig. 9) and from Browns depiction of (Fig 2) -- a tree with both roots and rootlets (See p. 2 of Part II). Note also that Bell uses of the word "seam" to describe the (coaly or carbonaceous) material below the base of these trees. However, in the next sentence, he says that the bases of the Sigillaria were (all) terminated in shales.
So, is it coal, or
Since other writers have commented on this, lets consider what they had to say as well. For example,
Duff and Walton quote Lyell as follows:
"'... most of the trees terminated downwards in seams of coal."' And that: Some few were ... based in clay and shale; none of them, except Calamites were in sandstone." 66 **
Duff and Walton, themselves, observed that: "...each specimen ... was rooted in mudstone," 66 while Calder said that: Virtually all Lepidodendrid trees... are rooted in coal beds, however thin." 67
However, Coffin said that the upright: "Petrified stumps starting from a coal surface almost never send roots into the coal, but spread them out onto, or just above the coal," 68 and that "Only a small number of vertical trees arise from coal. The majority originate in shale or sandstone, which exhibit no change in texture or organic content." 68 **
Therefore there appears to be a discrepancy. Lyell says that "most" of the upright trees are terminated in coal. Calder says that the "Lepidodendrid" trees are always rooted in coal, while Bell said that "most" Sigillaria trees had their bases "directly over a thin coaly or carbonaceous seam," yet in the next sentence that: "all of the erect Sigillaria had their basal terminations in shales." Duff and Walton weighed in on this as well and said that all of the upright trees they examined were "rooted in mudstone;" however, Coffin said that "only a small number of vertical trees arise from coal," and those that do "almost never send their roots into the coal."
which of these assessments, if any, is more accurate? One possible solution
is to examine one of Mr. Brown's drawings of the Sydney strata -- strata that has
been said to be very similar to that at
From this drawing it appears that most of the upright trees
near Sydney have their bases in shale.
After Brown, 1849, Quart. Jour. Geol. Soc. Lon., Vol. 6, p. 131.
Of the 19 trees in the drawing above, only three are resting upon a seam of coal, the other 16 have their bases either in shale or (in one case) resting upon clay.
* Note also the two trees on the far right; although they possess both roots and rootlets, they appear to terminate above the coal.
the available data, it appears to this writer that many (if not
most) of the upright trees in both the Joggins and Sydney strata do not terminate in coal but
rather in shale or mudstone. Even if a majority
of upright trees in the Nova Scotia strata do terminate in coal --
something that (at east from the published literature)
appears doubtful, to assert that a thin seam of coal (almost always) caused the underlying roots to
vanish without a trace seems questionable at best. However, there are other reasons
to question such a scenario. This will become more evident when we discuss trees that
traverse coal seams. At lease one such tree from the Sydney strata had (truncated)
did cross a seam of "coal mixed with
shale"; however, its roots did not appear to be offset.
Such a finding suggests that this seam never was a layer of peat, for if it was then the root-portion below the coal should be offset from that above it. The author has also found instances of upright tree stumps that were completely enclosed within and /or protruding through coal seams several feet thick.
The fact that well preserved leaves and other fragile fossils are found in many of the coals and their shale roofs is suggestive of rapid burial. The fact that the "soil" beneath them was able to preserve multitudes of (individual) rootlets suggests that the larger basal roots are missing because the trees were uprooted prior to deposition in the strata.
In this regard, Dawson, himself, said something of great significance about the Joggins "soil's" ability to preserve roots:
“We may also observe that, admitting the Stigmaria to be roots of trees, there are five distinct forest soils without any remains of trees, except their roots; and we shall find that throughout the (Carboniferous) section that the forest soils are much more frequently preserved than the forests themselves.
Such an account is a glaring contradiction to his earlier statement (ref. 62) that the "former" (trees) are less likely to be preserved than the "latter" (roots) -- especially when considering that so many of these upright trees do not show any traces of roots.
Additional Comments: While some of the fossil trees at Joggins undoubtedly possess extended roots, it appears that the great majority do not. Additionally, in the opinion of this writer it seems likely that when a tree in this strata is found to possess roots: upon further investigation it will, more often than not, be found to have its root-terminations truncated, and/or to be missing many of its rootlets. Therefore, the conclusion that these trees are in their original positions of growth seems doubtful.
Note also that Dr. E. Weiss came to a similar conclusion with regard to upright Sigillaria trees found in the coal strata of Germany. Specifically he noted that:
"Stammhöhe oft bedeutend; Exemplare mit Wurzeln sind selten, letztere meist abgebrochen. Blätter lineal mit breitem Mittelnerv." Quoted from: Aus der Flora der Steinkohlenformation, 1882, p. 4.
Which means: "Trunk heights are often considerable; examples with roots are rare, and often broken off. Leaves are linear with broad middle veins." Emphasis Added
Therefore we can conclude that such is not only the case in coal formation strata of Nova Scotia but also other coal formations as well: perhaps throughout the whole earth.
Before moving on, lets examine two more such trees with attached roots which were also said to be in situ. They are from the roof of the Main Coal seam at Sydney, Nova Scotia.
After Brown, 1849, Quarterly Jour. Geol. Soc. London, Vol. 5, p. 357.
After Brown, 1849, Quarterly Jour. Geol. Soc. London, Vol. 5, p. 359.
With Regard to Fig 6 Brown informs us that there are no leaves in the lowermost portion of the shale roof. Consider his words below:
"We may infer also, from the existence of a layer of shale without fossil plants, immediately over the coal, that the prostrate stems and leaves which occur in such large quantities in the next superincumbent bed, fell from trees growing upon the spot, and were entombed in layers of mud held in suspension in water, which at short intervals, inundated the ... marshy ground on which they grew; for had the plants been drifted from a distance, we should find them in the first layer of shale as well as in those higher up."
From this we note that there were large quantities of prostrate stems and leaves in layers of shale (at an unknown distance) above the coal. We are also told that these plant fragments were held in suspension in water as they were buried. Brown claims this is evidence that such fragments were not drifted from a distance, but rather fell from trees that grew upon this spot. How such a conclusion was arrived at is uncertain. He could have taken the opposite view: I. E. Had these trees grew upon this spot then we should see leaves and stems in the lowermost part as well, but since we don't, then they must have been rifted in from a distance. The fact that such fragments were entombed at short intervals while held in suspension also suggests that they were not all prostrate, and indicates that their entombment was quite rapid.
With Regard to the shale roof we are told that:
"Although the main coal is generally overlaid by shale, yet occasionally the shale thins out, and the thick sandstone, which is the next stratum... forms the roof of the coal." 70 **
We are also told that:
"...as no upright trees are found in the sandstone roof, it may be reasonably inferred that plants would not vegetate upon the bog itself, a layer of soft mud being necessary... for germinating the seeds; but when a plant had once taken root in this mud, its rootlets penetrated downwards into the peat, and furnished an abundant supply of nutriment ... from the ... decaying vegetable matter beneath." 70 **Mud-germination Hypothesis: Here we are told that occasionally the coal is directly overlain by sandstone rather than coal and that no upright plants were found in such sections because they needed a layer of mud in order to germinate. Brown was here trying to come up with a plausible explanation as to why no plants or trees are found in the sandstone roofs, and yet hold onto his belief that the upright trees in this strata were in situ. While such a hypothesis is (perhaps) possible, there is another possibility as well.
On its face, the idea that coal-strata trees would be unable to germinate in the peat itself seems strange when one considers that multitudes of forests are supposed to have (themselves) created the coals.Alternate Hypothesis: Since sandstone is more likely to be deposited in rapid fashion than laminated mud, we would expect to see even more upright trees preserved in the sandstone roofs; but instead, according to brown (and Calder) there are none.
Perhaps the faster moving water which deposited the sandstones was the very reason why no trees are found above such coals. Perhaps the upright trees in this strata required slow-moving water to hold them in place because they were not "rooted" at all but rather merely floating upright on top of an organic sedimentary deposit which would later become coal. In other words, the faster moving water was able to sweep away any trees in its path, and that such upright floating trees required more tranquil waters, along with some mud around their bases, in order to hold them in place. Again, the implications of this would mean that none of the upright trees and tree stumps in this strata are in situ, but rather the result of drifted material.
Iron Pyrites in Coal: With regard to the presence of iron pyrites in the coals we are told that:
"... the... upper part of the seam appears invariably to be influenced by the nature of the roof, the coal being highly charged with iron pyrites under a sandstone, but quite free from it under a shale roof *."
We are also told
that there is an: "absence of iron pyrites from
the upper part of the coal seam."
In this regard Brown also provides the following additional note:
According to Gibling, the presence of iron pyrites and sulphur in coal is evidence of marine influence. Additional evidence for marine influences at Joggins is presented in Part Two. With regard to the other drawing (Figure 9 above) we are told that the :
"* Mr. Buddle states in the Trans. of the Nat. Hist. Society of Newcastle, vol. i. p. 217, that the coal seams in Northumberland are always more or less intermixed with iron pyrites under a sandstone roof."
"The roots ... repeatedly ramify as their distance from the stem increases, and ... terminate in broad flattened points."
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the trees, in figures 6 and 9 (above), are the missing roots. With regard to fig. 6, it appears that the whole root on the right side of the tree has been broken off. Figure 9, on the other hand, has fairly long roots. Brown refers to their terminations as "broad flattened points," however, upon closer inspection it appears that the "points" are significantly more flattened than pointed -- suggesting that they have been truncated. Thus it appears these stumps also were likely not be in their original growth locations.
Lepidodendra Rarely Found with Attached Roots:
Dawson made the following comment with regard to the rarity of finding rootlets attached to Lepidodendra:
"The Lepidodendra ... roots would appear to have been constructed on the same regular type with those of the Sigillaria. Mr. Brown ... has described some trees believed to be Lepidodendra ... having such roots, in the coal-field of Cape Breton. Mr. Carruthers ... has recently made a similar statement in regard to Lepidodendra in the British coal-fields. I have not, however, met with any instance of this in Nova Scotia." 71 **
A Stigmaria (Root) From Joggins With Attached Rootlets:
Below is the only published drawing I could find of a Stigmaria root from Joggins with attached rootlets. It was found in "micaceous sandstone" and described by Sir Charles Lyell. 72 Regarding it he says:
"Stigmariae are abundant in the argillaceous sandstones of these coal measures, often with their leaves attached, and spreading regularly in all directions from the stem. It commonly happens here, as in Europe that when this plant occurs in sandstone, none of its leaf-like processes (or rootlets-?) are attached, but I saw one remarkable exception in strata of micaceous sandstone ... The stem was about four inches thick ... and it traversed obliquely several layers of fine white micaceous sandstone two feet in vertical thickness." p.156 **
After Lyell, Sir Charles, 1845;
Lyell here admits that Stigmaria (fragments ?) are abundantly found in the argillaceous (i.e. clay-impregnated) sandstones of these coal measures -- "often" with their "leaves" (or rootlets) attached. However, since such sandstones are not the most common type of sediments found beneath the coal seams, their occurrence -- even with "attached" rootlets, does not indicate that they grew there. We can say this because of what else Lyell tells us about these roots: i.e. that they are also "commonly" found with "none of" their "leaf-like processes (or rootlets) attached." Such statements are contradictory, and present another obstacle to the growth in situ hypothesis. If these roots were in situ, or in their original positions of growth, then shouldn't virtually all of them have attached rootlets? If however, they are not in situ, then they must have been uprooted: something which would account for their common absence.
However, there is another point that should be addressed as well: the fact that this was the only illustration that this author could find of a Stigmaria with attached rootlets in the Joggins area strata, and that such a root was not attached to a tree, but rather a fragment. Such a rare exception (of an upright Sigillaria or Lepidodendron tree with both roots and rootlets attached) was something that Dawson, also mentioned in his writings, and is verified by the fact that he could not (or rather did not) find even one example of such a tree in the Joggins strata that he deemed worthy to depict in his writings, but rather, for such an example, turned to the writings of Brown and the Sidney area, that he said was very similar to that of Joggins. This tree is discussed in Part Two of this paper.
Is it 'In Situ'
It is immediately apparent that the above Stigmaria (with rootlets) is not attached to a tree, but rather appears to have been broken off from one. Notice also that it is imbedded in the sandstone at an angle of about 45 degrees to the strata. This is important because, if this root is in situ, and if the Sigillaria trees at Joggins are also in situ, then their roots not only spread out horizontally from their bases, but at least some of them should be observed to go down into the "soil" in which they were "rooted." This presents a problem for the in situ theory, because it requires those who believe it to assume that the upright Sigillaria trees at Joggins were able to penetrate down into sandstone at 45 degree angles, but not at similar angles into mud, peat and clay. This is because the roots of these trees are rarely observed to penetrate into these "seat-earth" / "soils." However, we do find abundant (vertically positioned) rootlets in these same "soils". This suggests that the above root in sandstone is itself probably not in situ, or that few (if any) of the upright trees in this strata were buried in their original positions of growth: perhaps both.
End of Part One
Copyright 2002, 2004,
2005, 2006, 2010, 2013, Randy S. Berg;
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