Joggins Fossil Cliffs
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Geological Setting

The Joggins cliffs located at the Bay of Fundy on the east coast of Nova Scotia is an important geological site. Tides ranging up to about 50 feet at high tide have eroded the continental coast here exposing sedimentary strata that have been tilted together to about 200 from their original level position by tectonic forces. This tilting and erosion have exposed a 14,570-foot-deep section of the earth’s crust on the cliffs rich with many fossils. These fossils based on long-age uniformitarian assumptions are “from the Carboniferous period (353 to 280 million years ago).” [1] Young earth creationists dispute these assigned dates pointing to other rational interpretations of the fossil evidence some of which will be presented later in this article.


Of the many strata in the Joggins cliffs, sandstone and shale predominate. Also, “The entire section contains 76 beds of coal and 90 distinct Stigmaria underclays. All the coals except two rest on Stigmaria underclays; and there are 16 Stigmaria underclays without coals. Erect plants were observed at 22 levels. There are 24 bituminous limestones, 17 of which are immediately connected with seams of coal.” [2]


Plant fossils include extinct arborescent lycopods of the Sigillaria and Lepidodendron genera, Stigmaria (roots of the lycopods) and their rootlets, Calamites, Poacites (long striated leaves resembling those of Indian corn), large ferns, etc. Animal fossils identified include Cypris (minute crustaceous animals), Spirorbis (marine polychaete worms), Modiola (bivalve shells), reptiles, etc. Cliff faces are continuously being eroded. As a result, many fossils are destroyed, and new fossils are revealed in a short period of time.

Joggins Cliffs as Viewed by a Long-Age Uniformitarian Geologist


In his 1855 book, Acadian Geology, [3] Dawson presented his detailed notes on what he described as the most interesting portion of the Joggins cliffs section totaling 2,819 feet of depth; all subsequent references to Dawson’s notes will refer to this crust section. This was followed by a historical sketch on the latter section that depended on these assumptions:


“Gradual and long-continued subsidence with occasional elevatory movements, going on in an extensive alluvial tract teeming with vegetable life and receiving large supplies of fine detrital matter. On the one hand, subsidence tended to restore the original dominion of the waters. On the other hand, elevation, silting up, and vegetable and animal growth built up successive surfaces of dry land.” [4] 

Dawson further stated,


“It is impossible to contemplate this vast series of deposits, without been forcibly impressed with the great lapse of time and variety of change which it indicates.” [5]  

But, have Dawson and other long-age uniformitarians properly interpreted the evidence in these cliffs?  And is there other evidence to the contrary for a short-term rapid deposition of this crust section that they missed or had not been revealed by the cliffs at the time of their observations?


Evidence Pointing to Rapid Crust Formation at Joggins Cliffs

In Sandstone and Shale:

The erect fossil plants in the Joggins cliffs required rapid burial for preservation or they would have rotted off before they could be buried. This preservation is particularly evident as trunks of the erect fossil trees and lycopods show no more deterioration at their top than at their bottom. 

Dawson’s notes indicate that erect fossil trees, lycopods and Calamites were found in many layers of sandstone and/or shale spread throughout the exposed crust. [6] [a] The largest erect tree he described was 15-foot tall, probably a coaly conifer, and encased in both sandstone and shale. [7] As all these erect plants must have been buried rapidly and the cliffs are mostly sandstone and shale, there appears to be no reason to assume that any strata of sandstone or shale was not deposited rapidly by the same means.

Dawson noted ripples in sandstone at a minimum of four levels. The ripple marks were created by currents and must have been buried rapidly by sediments soon after they were formed, or they would have been destroyed. [8]

Joggins Cliffs have many erect fossil plants that extend through multiple geological strata or layers, a condition known as the polystrate position.  Where polystrates exist, they provide evidence that no long-time gap existed between the deposition of the effected strata or these polystrates would have rotted off before the upper strata was formed. [b]

Prostrate fossil plants also indicate rapid burial or just like the erect fossil plants they too would have rotted away exposed to the environment. Dawson’s notes indicate prostrate trees or lycopods at about ten levels spread through the crust. Also, he notes other fossil plants (e.g. Poacites and ferns) that existed at various levels.

In Limestone:

Shells of marine animals (e.g. Modiola and Cypris) will not last long after their death if exposed on the marine bottom. Dawson’s notes indicate that all the beds of limestone except for two have Modiola and/or Cypris shells [9] pointing to rapid accumulation of the limestone beds shielding them.

In Coal:

Coal formation requires the accumulation of large quantities of vegetation in an oxygen deficient environment otherwise the dead plants will decompose. Many conventional geologists therefore suggest coal comes from the buildup of peat in stagnant swamps which are oxygen deficient. “[I]t is noteworthy that the metamorphosis of peat into coal has never been observed under normal conditions.” [10]


There is a reasonable alternative to the stagnant swamp peat theory. This alternative postulate that large quantities of dead vegetation were drifted in at different times during a global flood. And, then they were rapidly buried sealing them off from oxygen before they could decompose. The potential time required for this buried vegetation to metamorphosize to coal will be presented later in this article. 


Were the Fossil Plants in Joggins Cliffs Grown There?


The evidence presented for rapid crust formation so far points to rapid accretion of sediments but there is also a very important question yet to be considered here.       Were the fossil plants found in the Joggins cliffs’ crust autochthonous (grown in place) or allochthonous (drifted in)?  As it takes time for trees, lycopods and other plants to grow, the lifetime of these plants if grown autochthonously involves time beyond the time to bury them. To the contrary if the plants were grown allochthonous, the time they took to grow has no relevance to where they are buried.

Without proof that the fossil plants found in these cliffs are autochthonous, a great lapse of time for formation of this crust section cannot be established. Dawson was aware of this and attempted to demonstrate autochthonous growth of the erect fossil trees and lycopods.

Evidence Against Autochthonous (In-Situ) Growth of Fossil Plants


“Roots that are found at Joggins are typically truncated, either by bedding or the ends of the roots are broken off.” [11] Dawson’s notes acknowledge a general lack of complete root systems attached to the erect fossil lycopods. He states, “This is the first instance we have here yet met with of the distinct connexion of an erect ribbed stem with its Stigmaria roots. The causes of the difficulty of observing the roots and stem in connexion will be stated in the sequel.” [12] This difficulty provides a strong indication that there was insufficient evidence to support the contention that all fossil erect plants there were grown autochthonously.  One recently exposed lycopod with roots at Joggins cliffs is shown to the left.

Finding erect trees or their stumps even with roots do not establish autochthonous. Field observations indicate that plants can be uprooted with much of their root systems intact due to waterlogging, unstable soil, or storms. Also, under the right conditions, trees and other plants often have been observed floating vertically in streams, lakes, and seas with their roots down and subsequently settling to the bottom of lakes and seas in an erect position. [c][d] Roots can then to be silted over making the tree appear autochthonous. Stumps have been photographed “sitting upright along the beach or among piles of driftwood along the Bay of Fundy, where high tides have left them.” [13]

Finding roots with rootlets do not establish conclusively autochthonous growth. Dawson mentioned a bed of shale “containing a stool of Stigmaria, one of the roots of which was traced 9 ½ feet. Its rootlets were attached, so that it can scarcely have been a drift-stump.” [14] The fallacy of this assertion can be seen when Ian Juby photo documented an inverted stump with roots and rootlets at the Joggins cliffs. [15] [16] This inverted stump could not be in growth position as stumps do not grow upside down and the stump must therefore be drifted, allochthonous. Therefore, finding roots and rootlets on this inverted stump demonstrates that they are not indicative of an autochthonous state. Also, isolated Stigmaria roots with attached rootlets have been found separated from their lycophyte, some of them in erect stumps.[17] The fact that they were found in a stump where they could not have grown indicates that they were drifted and that drifted Stigmaria roots can retain their rootlets.

Roots growing under the influence of earth’s gravity grow downward in the direction of gravitational pull. This is known as positive geotropism. Ian Juby has photo documented roots from an erect fossil stump in the Joggins cliffs having negative geotropism, bending upward. [18] [19] [20] This indicates that the stump that they are attached to must have drifted in and settled with its roots covered with sediment in the process.

Diagonal trees with roots are occasionally found in the cliffs and tipped 45 or more degrees to the bedding. [21] When a fossil tree is inclined to such an extent, it is very likely that it was drifted in horizontally and settled with insufficient depth to completely right itself.

Underclays Are Not Autochthonous Soils:


In the Joggins cliffs as previously mentioned in this article, “The entire section contains 76 beds of coal and 90 distinct Stigmaria underclays. All the coals except two rest on Stigmaria underclays; and there are 16 Stigmaria underclays without coals.” It has been conventionally assumed that underclays are the fossilized soils on which the plants grew that later became coal. However, some of the evidence against underclays being soils are as follows:


1.    “[U]nderclays are well-sorted sediments.” [22] This sorting would have occurred during deposition. They lack the characteristic profiles in true soils. [23] [24] And, their geochemistry disagrees with a soil profile. [25]

2.    Underclays formed from clay sediments are flocculated indicating that they have settled out of saltwater, and fresh water will destroy the flocculation so they must have remained under saltwater. [26] Unless the plants that supposedly grew on these clay sediments were highly salt tolerant, they could not have grown there.

3.    Soils contain the roots of the plants that grew in them. However, the only roots and rootlets in the underclays are Stigmaria from lycopods and not of the ferns, horsetails and other plants that are well known in coal. [27] The descriptions in Dawson’s notes indicate about 26 underclays with Stigmaria rootlets only, 5 with Stigmaria roots only and 4 with Stigmaria roots and rootlets. These Stigmaria roots and rootlets likely drifted in with the underclays.


Coal Beds Do Not Prove a Long Lapse of Time

The lapse of time required for coalification need not be long at all; in fact, it can be accomplished in days.

“Laboratory experiments have been quite successful in artificially producing coal-like materials relatively rapidly, under conditions designed to simulate those present in sedimentary basins where coal measure strata have accumulated.” [28]

Coalification does not require pressure but requires heat in the absence of oxygen. The heat is ideally initially supplied by hot water but will proceed with heat produced as the process proceeds. [29]


The evidence in Joggins cliffs does not support a long time for the exposed crust’s formation. There is plenty of evidence to support the rapid accretion of sediments. And there appears to be no unequivocal evidence for autochthonous plants which would require time to grow or for other time gaps between the formation of strata. Even coalification does not appear to take long under the expected conditions. As for when this crust section was formed, the best evidence is the coal.  Carbon -14 tests by some of the foremost AMS laboratories in the world on coal assigned to Pennsylvanian subperiod of the Carboniferous indicates that this coal is only thousands of years old not millions. 




[a] Dawson’s notes indicate erect fossil trees or tree-like plants at about 35 levels and erect Calamites at about 8 levels.

[b] Many of the fossil trees/lycopods are truncated at the interface between strata. Old-earth adherents have proposed that the exposed portion of the tree rotted off there before the stratum above began to form. Young-earth proponents have proposed they sheared off there because of tsunamis or other impacts that accompanied Noah’s Flood.

[c] A 40-foot-long tree trunk has been floating vertically in the Crater Lake of Oregon for 120 years or more.

[d] After the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, many logs were seen floating upright in Spirit Lake, and many settled to the bottom standing in the upright position.



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

(b) Michael C. Rygel via Wikimedia Commons

(c) Jorgenuson via Wikipedia Commons, CC BY 3.0


[1] Joggins Fossil Cliffs, Unesco, viewed internet September 1, 2022

[2] Dawson, J.W., Acadian Geology: An Account of the Geological Structure and Mineral Resources of Nova Scotia, and Portions of the Neighbouring Provinces of British America, (Pictou, Nova Scotia: Simpkin, Marshal, and Company,1855), 178-179

[3] Dawson, 128-143

[4] Dawson, 176-177

[5] Dawson, 179

[6] Dawson, 128-143

[7] Dawson, 139, 172

[8] Why Not Creation?  Lammerts, W., editor, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1970), 158-159

[9] Dawson, 128-143

[10] Morris, J, The Young Earth, (China: Master Books, 2009),106

[11] Rock Solid Answers, Oard, M. and Reed, J., editors, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009), 222

[12] Dawson, 158

[13] Coffin H., Brown R., and Gibson R.,Origin by Design, (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2005), 219

[14] Dawson, 164

[15] Juby, I., About Polystrate Fossils, IanJudy.org, Oct 5, 2019

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

[17] Coffin, 224

[18] Juby, I., About Polystrate Fossils

[19] Price

[20] Rock Solid Answers, Ibid.

[21] Coffin, 217. A photo of a polystrate tree inclined at about 45 degrees to the bedding with roots at Joggins cliffs is shown on the same page.

[22] Coffin, 205

[23] Ibid.

[24] Scheven, J, The Carboniferous floating forest - an extinct pre-Flood ecosystem, creation.com, February 4, 2011, originally from Journal of Creation 10(1):70–81, April 1996, Table 1. Results of work on underclays between the years 1938 and 1977

[25] Ibid.

[26] Coffin, 206

[27] Scheven, section Five reasons why Carboniferous coals are allochthonous, (1)(a)

[28] Snelling, A., Earth’s Catastrophic Past, Geology, Creation & the Flood, Vol. 2, (Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research, 2009), 584

[29] Morris, Ibid.

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Polystrate Fossil Tree with Roots Joggins Cliffs
Michael C. Rygel (b)
Fossil Stigmaria Root with Rootlets
 Joggins Cliffs
Jorgenuson (b)

“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion ... draws all things else to support and agree with it, and though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or else despises or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects.”

Francis Bacon