From time to time, news reports are published about remarkable discoveries of long-extinct creatures found in the fossil record.
The woolly mammoth is one of those remnants of history. In October of 1999, newspaper headlines announced: “Frozen mammoth discovered in Siberia!” The body of a woolly mammoth with the entire carcass intact had been discovered in northern Siberia.
The creature subsequently was retrieved from the ice and flown to Khatanga where scientists performed research on the remains. Geneticists extracted cells from the body with the intent of one day cloning a new mammoth, using a female elephant as a surrogate mother.
The woolly mammoth was a huge beast that roamed the earth several thousand years ago. It is well-known from numerous cave paintings. The creature stood some thirteen to fourteen feet high — about the size of a full grown African bull elephant.
One of the great mysteries of geologic history is why mammoths became extinct.
Various theories have been proposed. Some scientists suggest that these massive animals were the first species to be exterminated by man (Boyd, 479). There really is no support for this view. No evidence has been discovered of ancient mammoth traps, nor have there been any traces of arrow or ax blows on the bones from the many discoveries of these creatures.
How Did the Woolly Mammoth Become Extinct?
The most common view is that the mammoths did not survive a sudden and severe climatic change.
Let us consider some of the known facts regarding the demise of these great beasts.
The evidence for widespread mammoth deaths involves vast regions of the polar-area of the northern hemisphere. One news article states:
“All over the frozen northern parts of Siberia and Canada we find the frozen carcasses of hundreds of thousands of large mammal species. These are mainly mammoths, but also [there are] wooly rhinos and other creatures of this kind.”
In some areas the tusks of the mammoths protruded (like tombstones) so profusely from the frozen tundra that it generated trade in fossil ivory for centuries, extending all the way to China.
It is obvious that the mammoth herds died quite rapidly. They were, so to speak, quick-frozen.
James D. Dana, who served as Professor of Natural History and Geology at Yale, in his renowned work, A Manual of Geology, wrote that “the encasing in ice of huge Elephants, and the perfect preservation of the flesh, shows that the cold finally became suddenly extreme, as of a single winter’s night, and knew no relenting afterwards” (Price, 132; emphasis original).
Sir Henry Howorth, a 19th century archaeologist, assembled a massive amount of material concerning the mammoth graveyards. Incidentally, Howorth was rather hostile toward Christianity. Anyway, he attributed the quick-freeze to a “change of climate” that “must have been sudden, and must also have been continental” (94).
The freeze occurred so rapidly that the bodies of these huge beasts did not have time to decompose. There have been numerous cases where the flesh of mammoths was so well-preserved that the meat was still edible by bears and wolves.
In 1901, a mammoth carcass was found so well-preserved that there were food fragments, as yet unswallowed, in its mouth. Moreover, there were more than twenty pounds of vegetation still in the stomach cavity — some of which was not yet decayed. The animal had died and been frozen in virtually a matter of hours (Dillow, 319-20).
Another amazing revelation amidst these discoveries is the fact that the stomach content of some of these creatures indicated they had been grazing on vegetation that grows only in warm regions, yet they were quite near the north pole. Scientists were mystified.
The Uniformitarianism Dilemma
At this point, we must take a brief excursion and discuss the concept of uniformitarianism as advanced by the advocates of Darwinian evolution.
Uniformitarianism is the notion that the earth’s features, as currently observed, are the result of gradual changes over a very long period of time (supposedly, several billion years). Thus, the slow processes we see occurring now are a commentary on the forces of nature in the past.
The favorite phrase in the evolutionary vocabulary is: “The present is a key to the past.” The late George Simpson of Harvard known by his peers as Mr. Evolution opined that without the uniformitarian concept “there could be no really scientific study of any kind of history” (742).
The fact of the matter is, the data cited above represent a mammoth obstacle to uniformitarian (evolution) theory.
An alternate concept for explaining earth’s features is called “catastrophism.” This is the idea that the planet’s surface has been subject to violent changes in the past on a worldwide scale. The most significant of these would be the global Flood of Noah’s day.
Let us reflect upon several matters related to this theme.
Evidence of Worldwide Catastrophe
First, it is well known that in the ancient past, the earth was characterized by a universally mild climate. There is plenty of evidence for this.
For example, fossil remains of ivy, grapevines, oaks, walnuts, and magnolias in Greenland within eleven degrees of the north pole reveal a once summer-like climate in that region.
Coral within fossil rocks, discovered near Point Barrow, Alaska, indicate that the waters there once were much warmer than at present because corals cannot live in water cooler than about 68 degrees.
It is also widely recognized that coal is the by-product of decayed vegetable matter. There are vast coal deposits in certain areas of the earth (e.g., Antarctica) that cannot now accommodate the lush vegetation necessary to produce billions of tons of coal. This clearly demonstrates that the climate in these regions must have been drastically different in the remote past.
Alfred R. Wallace, who proposed the theory of evolution about the same time that Darwin did, once wrote:
“There is but one climate known to the ancient fossil world as revealed by the plants and animals entombed in the rocks, and the climate was a mantle of spring-like loveliness which seems to have prevailed continuously over the whole globe” (277).
A more recent apostle of evolution, Dr. Robert Jastrow, similarly has observed:
“Throughout the long reign of the giant reptiles, the world had known a mild and constant climate; on every continent the eye met gentle landscapes of low relief, with shallow seas and vast areas of swampland and tropical forest. The elements of the world were in perfect balance” (69).
The crucial question is: What so altered the surface of the earth so as to create the radically different features observed today?
An increasing number of scientists are confessing that the theory of uniformitarianism simply cannot account for this change.
Catastrophism is becoming an intriguing topic of discussion again.
Note the following testimony.
“Of late there has been a serious rejuvenation of catastrophism in geological thought” (Brown, 456).
“The profound role of major storms throughout geologic history is becoming increasingly recognized” (Nummendal, 23).
“The hurricane, the flood, or the tsunami may do more in an hour or a day than the ordinary processes of nature have achieved in a thousand years” (Ager, 54).
Could Noah’s Flood Be the Catastrophe that Changed the World?
The disappearance of the great mammoths can be explained more reasonably in terms of the Genesis Flood than by any of the many theories espoused by evolutionists.
Many scholars believe there is biblical evidence for the concept that, before the Flood, the earth was encompassed by a canopy of water vapor that diffused sunlight and created a “greenhouse” effect, which resulted in a uniformly warm climate. Too, it is probable that the land-to-water ratio was more evenly distributed in the antediluvian world. This also would facilitate more moderate temperatures.
Joseph Dillow has made a strong defense of a pre-flood vapor canopy in his book, The Waters Above.
When God triggered the Flood, the canopy vapor collapsed, providing much of the water that flooded the planet. This, along with other geologic phenomena (e.g., volcanic activity) resulted in climatic conditions being altered radically worldwide (cf. Oard, p. ii; Whitcomb & Morris, 292ff). After the Flood, the biblical record mentions “cold and heat, winter and summer” for the first time (Gen. 8:22).
As weather conditions changed abruptly and drastically, the mammoths were quick-frozen in a sudden winter of the polar regions. Remember, we mentioned earlier that some of the mammoths had warm weather vegetation in their mouths and stomachs — frozen before lunch was over!
What About the Ice Age?
This brings us to a discussion of the Glacial Period, more popularly called the “Ice Age.” Was there an Ice Age?
Geologists maintain there were several glacial periods in the earlier history of our planet. Supposedly, these lasted for millions of years. Great sheets of ice blanketed a considerable area of North America and Europe.
The cause of this circumstance is a matter of considerable confusion among evolutionary geologists. More than sixty theories have been advanced in an attempt to explain the Ice Age (Oard, i).
Though some religionists have denied the existence of an ice age at all, respectable creationist scholars have argued persuasively that there is ample widespread evidence for a post-Flood glacial period.
Bernard Northrup, who has studied the geologic evidence from coast to coast and abroad, has argued that an ice age followed the Flood and was itself quite catastrophic. He insists, however, that this historical period which he believes is alluded to in the book of Job can be fitted into the “young earth” chronology of strict creationism (93-100).
Michael Oard, a meteorologist, contends that the evidence prohibits the theory that there were multiple ice ages. He argues for one ice age — a catastrophic icy era which came “as a consequence of the Genesis Flood” (iv).
Thus, the Christian need not deny that there was a historical period during which ice was extensive on our planet. He must simply recognize that the evolutionary view of such is seriously disputed.