The complete preserved skull of an ichthyosaur1 was found buried in a vertical, nose-down position at 90 degrees to the rock layers. Unlike most fossils, the head was preserved in three dimensions, and had not been flattened by the weight of sediment above it.
Geologists found the fossil in 1999, in an abandoned quarry in the north of Switzerland, near Hauenstein, and took months to prise it carefully out of the enclosing rock.
The specimen is 37 cm (15 in) long, and consists of the head, its long snout with some 200 fine teeth, a few neck vertebrae and a very small part of its rib cage. It was a young animal, which would have been about two metres long, of the species Leptonectes tenuirostris, and is now displayed at the nearby Natural History Museum of Olten.
The skull was enclosed vertically within three geological layers, which have been dated according to long-age beliefs, by reference to the fossils they contain.2 Curiously, the layers span an ‘age’ of about one million years, and that presents something of a problem for long-age geologists.
How could anyone conceive of an ichthyosaur head being buried in a vertical position slowly over a million years, yet remaining preserved along its whole length? The obvious implication is that the ‘millions of years’ are fanciful.
So how would a long-ager deal with this problem? The scientist who discovered it, Dr Achim Reisdorf, was interviewed in depth in a German-language publication that is sympathetic to the Bible.3 It is fascinating to watch him wrestle with the evidence, while trying to hold that the sediments were deposited over a million years.
He proposed that soon after the creature died, before rigor mortis (stiffening of the body after death) set in, it started to sink. The increasing water pressure progressively collapsed its lungs, tipping it onto its nose, and causing it to sink faster and faster in a ‘kamikaze’ plunge. When it reached the bottom, its head thrust into the mud as far as its neck.
But why would a large marine animal die suddenly unless it was attacked by a predator? Why wasn’t it scavenged? How could the rib cage remain flexible, allowing the lungs to collapse, and the snout remain rigid, allowing it to push so far into the sediment?
Even if such a scenario were believable to this point, the ‘long ages’ assigned to the rock layers create extra problems. If the sediments on the bottom were a million years old, why were they still soft? And if they were still soft, why was the fossil preserved? Why didn’t bacteria or worms demolish the remains of the animal in a short time as they normally do?
According to Dr Reisdorf, the sediments remained soft, for at least one million years, allowing the ichthyosaur’s complete head to sink right in. Then the material surrounding the skull hardened immediately afterwards, so quickly that the skull was beautifully preserved.
These sorts of mental gymnastics highlight the fact that there is no tension between the Bible and scientific facts—only between certain interpretations of the facts in relation to the past. Long-age beliefs lead to the idea that the layers were laid down over millions of years. It’s those beliefs that create the problem.
When we abandon the preconceived belief in long ages, we are free to understand the evidence in a straightforward manner. The layers were laid down, and the ichthyosaur buried, as a result of rapid, catastrophic happenings. Moreover, the same processes that deposited the next layer of sediment probably removed the rest of the body. All this is consistent with evidence we would expect for Noah’s Flood.