Polystrate Fossils
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Joggins Fossil Cliffs, Nova Scotia, Canada (a)
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Sigillaria Tree Fossils
 Nant Liech, South Wales (b)
Polystrate Tree Fossils
 Caipile, Fife, Scotland (c)

“That there has been land as well as sea at all former geological periods, we know from the fact, that fossil trees and terrestrial plants are imbedded in rocks of every age.” [1]                                                               

Charles Lyell, 1854        

Polystrate Trees

Fossil trees or fossil tree-like plants may be found prostrate, erect (upright), tilted and in rare cases upside down with respect to the geological strata.  In long-age uniformitarian thought, each stratum may have taken place over hundreds of thousands or even hundreds of millions of years; and between strata formation, there may have been in some cases hundreds of millions of years as well without additional sedimentation. Yet, many fossil trees and tree-like plants can be seen extending partially or fully through multiple strata; so the life of the trees if autochthonous (grown in situ) plus the time it would take them to decay after death provide rational limits for the time required to form the depths of the strata that entomb them.  N. A. Rupke recognizing the often rapid and cataclysmal nature of sedimentation revealed by large fossils that extend through multiple geological strata or layers termed this condition as the “polystrate position.” [2] Polystrate fossils are usually fossil trees or tree-like plants (e.g. Sigillaria and Lepidodendron genera) which for simplicity we will also call trees, but they also may include although rarely large fossil animals.  

Polystrate fossils can be found in many parts of the world. This is important as it broadens the discussion from some unusual isolated local event to a much broader phenomenon. Some of the better-known locations of polystrates are listed below:


1.    Canada, Nova Scotia, Joggins Cliffs: 76 coal seams 0.16 to 5 feet thick and 63 horizons with vertical lycopsid trees [3] These fossil trees are mostly encased in sandstone and shale.

2.    England, near Edinburgh, quarry: a polystrate tree in sandstone measuring “no less than 25 meters and, intersecting 10 or 12 different strata leaned at an angle of about 40o.” [4]

3.    South Wales, UK, Nant Llech in the Swansea Valley: two polystrate Sigillaria trees that appear in growth position in sandstone. These fossil trees have been relocated to the front of the Swansea Museum. [5]

4.    Scotland, coast at Caiplie, Fife: two fossilized tree trunks 1 to 2 m tall still attached at right angles to planes of multiple strata.

5.    Germany, near Esse-Kupferdreh: Lepidophyta stumps at interspaces 3 to 5 meters 7.5 m in height over seam Angelika [6]

6.     France, near Saint-Etienne: many polystrate tree-trunks [7]

7.    United States, Yellowstone Park: Specimen Ridge

8.    United States, TN near Cookville at Kettle’s coal mines: contains over a dozen polystrate lycopods, plus over a dozen polystrate Calamites [8][9][10]

9.   United States, KY at Eastern Kentucky Coal Field: two 6-foot tree stumps in sandstone [11]

10. United States, PA, Carbondale: “It is common to find Lepidodendra 20 or 30 feet high, and the remains of one in the rocks at Carbondale, PA, show that it was at least 75 feet high, and two feet in diameter.” [12]

Global Flood Catastrophism Versus Long-Age Uniformitarianism

Until the latter part of 19th century, western scientists were predominantly Christians that believed the earth was young and in the global catastrophic flood as recorded in the book of Genesis.  They saw no conflict between what they observed in the natural world and the biblical account. Then, this view was gradually replaced by the concept of uniformitarianism based on the ideas of men like Hutton, Darwin and Lyell.

Uniformitarianism in geology is the assumption that all geological processes observed today have acted in similar manner and essentially with the same intensity in the past. This led to the further assumption that very long time periods were required to form most geological features based on the slow rates observed today. Long-age uniformitarian statements from three geology books spanning the last 83 years can be found in Appendix A. “Today, however, the preferred term by long-age geologists is ‘actualism’, as they have been forced by the overwhelming evidence to abandon strict, classical uniformitarianism (a.k.a. gradualism) and include catastrophes to explain many parts of the geological record.” [13]

Polystrates as Evidence for Catastrophism

Young earth advocates have commonly used polystrates as an argument for catastrophism and against long-age uniformitarianism. Unlike the generally slow sedimentary accretion rates observed today, burials of polystrates were obviously rapid (catastrophic). Some evidence demonstrating the relatively short time that must have occurred for burial is as follows:


1.    Generally, height of polystrate fossils may be tens of meters yet “their topmost parts are as well preserved as basal ones.” Indicates rapid burial sealing them up when or shortly after they died.[14]

2.   ‘“Because Sigillaria properly speaking constituted only bark tubes when their insignificant wood-body had become putrefied they may have been more transitory than, for instance, the solid oak or Sequoia trunks today.” As a result the enclosure of the truncated tree trunks cannot have taken up much space in time. Klusemann and Teichmuller conclude: “Perhaps it were some months, perhaps some years, but certainly not much longer”; and this estimate is even the maximum one.’ [15]

3.    “Here and there ... vertical trunks of trees are met with standing in their positions of growth but embedded in solid sandstone... These stems, sometimes 20 feet or more in height, prove that a mass of sand of that depth must have accumulated around them before they had time to decay.” We know little about the durability of the submerged trees; but they probably could not have lasted long unless covered up by sediment; so that the mass of strata in which they are enclosed may be supposed to have been accumulated within a few years.”[16]

4.    ‘Dr. Dereck Ager, former president of the British Geological Association, wrote, “Obviously sedimentation had to be very rapid to bury a tree in a standing position before it rotted and fell.”’ [17]


It should not be supposed that rapid sedimentation has occurred only where fossil polystrates exist. The same types of sediments that encase polystrates are common throughout the world without them.  In addition to indicating rapid accretion of sediments, polystrates tie the various strata they contact and their common bedding planes together within a short time of formation.  It appears evident that polystrates testify to the fact that depth of sediments, stratification, and bedding planes between strata are not proofs of long-age.  


Although long-age uniformitarians/actualists can readily acknowledge that polystrate fossils indicate rapid burial, they appeal to local rapid deposition to account for polystrate fossils. To this latter point, some recent uniformitarian comments can be found in Appendix B. When there are multiple levels of polystrates, they appeal to multiple catastrophic floods of local origin. Yet biblical creationists believe that the global catastrophic model of sedimentation can better explain the observed facts.

“That the catastrophe was global in extent is clear from the extreme horizontal extent and continuity of the continental sedimentary deposits. That there was a single large catastrophe and not many smaller ones with long gaps in between is implied by the lack of erosional channels, soil horizons, and dissolution structures at the interfaces between successive strata... Studies in sandstones exposed in the Grand Canyon reveal crossbeds produced by high velocity water currents that generated sand waves tens of meters in height. The crossbedded Coconino sandstone exposed in the Grand Canyon continues across Arizona and New Mexico into Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas.” [18]

“All these geological implications of the biblical record of the Flood are generally supported by, and are consistent with, the actual details preserved in the rock record. [19]

“Today, we need to see that catastrophism for what it is, the dominate force that has shaped our geological history.”[20]


Appendix A – Samples of Uniformitarian Statements from Geology Books


1.    “The earth is continually changing. Some changes are great and rapid, whereas others are small and slow although they are nevertheless effective. The geologist seeks to analyze the changes and the processes that cause them. He assumes that these processes have been operative during the past as well as in the present, although perhaps in different degrees, and he seeks to explain the present earth as the result of processes which have been acting through long ages of time. Thus the present, which is the outgrowth of the past, is also the key to the history of the past.” [21] Geology Principles and Processes, 1939

2.    “Past processes presumably operated at the same slow pace as those of today. Consequently, very long periods of time must have been available for the processes to accomplish their tasks. It was apparent that a great deal of time was needed for a river to cut its valley, or for hundreds or thousands of feet of mud and sand to be deposited on an ocean bottom, hardened into rock, and raised above the level of the sea.” [22] Physical Geology, 1965

3.    “The acceptance of uniformitarianism meant the acceptance of a very long history for Earth. Although processes vary in their intensity, they still take a very long time to create or destroy major landscape features. For example, geologists have established that mountains once existed in portions of present day Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Today the region consists of low hills and plains.” [23] Essentials of Geology, 2006


Appendix B – Samples of Uniformitarian Statements Regarding Polystrates


1.   “I agree with the young earth creation theorists that polystrate fossils are an example of catastrophism. However, it does not invalidate uniformitarianism...far from it... we also see rapid burial today, in the form of floods, volcanic ash, hurricane deposits, and other depositional processes. So yes, uniformitarianism is the key to the past, and since we see both rapid and slow deposition today, then we had rapid and slow deposition in the past... If you believe in a young earth, global flood model, you would expect all rocks to show evidence of a catastrophic origin... but they do not. Most rocks give evidence of slow, gradual deposition. Only occasionally do we see evidences of catastrophic events.” [24]

2.    Regarding polystrates, “According to mainstream models of sedimentary environments, they are formed by rare to infrequent brief episodes of rapid sedimentation separated by long periods of either slow deposition, nondeposition, or a combination of both.” [25]





(a) Michael C. Rygel, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

(b) Logan before 1898

(c) James Allan, Fossil trees, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0



[1] Lyell, Charles, Principles of Geology, 9th Edition, Books 1 - 3, 1854 edition, (reprinted by Pantianos  Classics), 95

[2] Why Not Creation? Ed. Lammerts, W., (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1970), 152  

[3] Rock Solid Answers, Ed. Oard, M. and Reed, J., (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009), 219

[4] Why Not Creation? 154

[5] Geike, A., Geology, (New York: The Macmillian Company, 1897), 180

[6] Why Not Creation? 153

[7] Earth before man,1886, engraved illustration

[8] Juby, I., July 11, 2008: Delk track, Tennesse polystrate, Mt.St. Helens, “Complete Creation”Creation Science Newsletter, Sep 13, 2008,


[9] Morris, J.D., A Classic Polystrate Fossil, Acts & Facts, Institute for Creation Research, October 1, 2009 internet

[10] Used location only from this site. Rapid Formation of Layers & Coal, Petrified Vertical Trees, https://www.bible.ca/tracks/rapid-formation-coal.htm

[11]Size of Fossil Stumps, https://www.uky.edu/KGS/fossils/fossil-tree-stumps-types.php

[12] Tenney, Sanborn, Geology for Teachers, Classes, and Private Students, (Philadelphia: E.H. Butler & Co., 1860), 160

[13] Price, Paul, How the Joggins polystrate fossils falsify long Ages, creation.com, April 16, 2020

[14] Why Not Creation? 152

[15] Ibid., 153. Quotes from other authors.

[16] Geike, 179-180

[17] Price, ibid.

[18] in six days, 232-233

[19] Snelling, Andrew, Earth’s Catastrophic Past, Volume 2, (Dallas, TX: Institute of Creation Research, 2009), 477

[20] Garner, Paul, Set in Stone Evidence for Earth’s Catastrophic Past, Truth in Science, dvd

[21] Emmons, W., et al., Geology Principles and Processes, (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1939), 1

[22] Leet, L.D.and Judson, L., Physical Geology, 3rd Ed., (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1965), 3

[23] Lutgens, F. and Tarbuck, E., Essentials of Geology, 9th Ed., (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 1995), 4 

[24] Neyman, Greg, Polystrate Fossils, Old Earth Ministries, viewed internet May 5, 2022, Creation Science Rebuttals, Institute for Creation Research, Dr. John's Q&A #81, 1995

[25] Polystrate fossil, Wikipedia, viewed internet August 29, 2022