Recently I’ve visited limestone caves in Maastricht (in the Netherlands) and Paris (in France). These are man-made tunnels and underground caverns where the rock was mined centuries ago for building purposes.
The North Caves tunnel goes deep below the St Pietersberg hill (Saint Peter’s Mount) at Maastricht. The network of thousands of tunnels is over 80 km (50 miles) long and includes charcoal drawings and inscriptions on the walls. Miners started excavating the mountain some 1,000 years ago, and in recent years open-cut mining has been used as well. This yellowish limestone was used in the Netherlands and Belgium as a traditional building material from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
These caves were used as a refuge in wars and when Maastricht was under siege. During World War II, 780 paintings, including Rembrandt’s “Night Watch”, were kept safe in the caves for three years. And the tunnels were used to smuggle Jews to safety during this period.
The temperature inside the caves is 11 0C (53 0F) and the relative humidity is 98%. A generator was used to heat the cavern where the paintings were stored to reduce the relative humidity and protect the fragile paintings.
The caves were originally dug to mine marl, which is a mixture of calcium carbonate and clay. Limestone is a carbonate sedimentary rock comprised of crystal forms (mostly of calcite and aragonite) of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). It‘s often composed of the skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, foraminifera, and molluscs.
The layer of Maastricht limestone in the Netherlands and Belgium is 30-90 m (100-295 feet) thick. Our guide said it was 70 m (230 feet) thick at Maastricht and that it was part of the chalk layer across northwest Europe, which includes the White Cliffs of Dover.
The tour of the limestone catacombs (tunnels) beneath Paris includes macabre displays of human bones, which had been relocated from ancient cemeteries between 1780 and 1960. The network of tunnels is more than 250 km (155 miles) long. The light beige limestone quarried from these tunnels from 2000 years ago until the 17th century was used to construct many buildings in Paris.
Limestone was also evident at the Buttes Chaumont Park, which was formerly a gypsum quarry. Gypsum is calcium sulfate dihydrate (CaSO4·2H2O). Quarrying ceased by 1860 and then the area was transformed into a park with a mountain 50 m (164 feet) high, cliffs, a grotto and arches, and an artificial lake.
The limestone of the Paris sedimentary basin covers a large surface area. This valuable building material has been mined from either open cut quarries or underground quarries. The underground mines commenced in the Middle Ages (from AD 1200). In Paris, the limestone was mined from two layers, each about 4 m in thickness. The deeper mines reached a depth of 30 m (100 feet). In the 20th century, open-cut limestone quarries were developed in the Oise region of France, about 40 km north of Paris.
A large gypsum deposit at Montmartre in Paris led “calcined gypsum” (roasted gypsum or gypsum plaster) to be commonly known as “plaster of Paris”. Gypsum plaster is produced by heating gypsum to about 150 °C (300 °F). It hardens when moistened and allowed to dry. Plaster is a mixture of gypsum (or lime), water, and sand that hardens on drying and is used for coating walls and ceilings of buildings.
So limestone was generally mined south of the Seine river and gypsum was mined to the north. This was because the gypsum layer was above the limestone layer and the layers were deeper on the northern side where the limestone was below the water table. These sedimentary rock layers were deformed by the Meudon anticline whose axis is aligned west-east, which is roughly parallel to the direction of the Seine river in central Paris.
They say that limestone was the first rock to be quarried in human history. Due to the widespread occurrence it was easy to find, and its softness and layered structure meant it was easy to work.
About 10% of all sedimentary rock is limestone. It’s more resistant to erosion than most other sedimentary rock, but less resistant than igneous rock. Limestone is an excellent building material that has been used for many years. It’s relatively easy to cut into blocks or use for more elaborate carving. The ability to carve limestone was developed to a very high level on many cathedrals built in medieval France. The outside layer of the great pyramid of Gaza was also made of limestone. It was a popular building material in the Middle Ages. Many medieval churches and castles in Europe are made of limestone.
Lots of houses, the inner fortification of Maastricht and the Sint-Janskerk (the big red church on the Vrijthof Square) have been built using local limestone.
Many buildings in Paris were constructed from limestone. This includes the light-coloured, 6-7 story high apartment buildings (decorated with balconies and ornaments), Notre Dame, the Louvre Museum, Place de la Concorde, Les Invalides, and the many gothic monuments. Haussmann’s grand renovation of Paris (1853-1870) relied on buildings faced with Paris limestone from the Oise valley north of Paris.
Portland cement is made by heating limestone (calcium carbonate) with other materials (such as clay) to 1,450 °C (2,640 °F) in a kiln. The most common use for Portland cement is to make concrete, which is a composite building material made of aggregate (gravel and sand), cement, and water. Concrete hardens into a durable stone-like material that has many uses. Most concrete is poured with reinforcing materials embedded to provide tensile strength, yielding reinforced concrete. Concrete is one of the most frequently used building materials.
Fossils in limestone
Fossils of dinosaurs, mammals and mosasaurs have been found in Maastricht limestone. The most common fossils are bivalves, corals, sea urchins, and shark teeth. Mosasaurs are very large extinct marine reptiles. The larger mosasaurs reached sizes of 10–15 m (33–49 ft) long. The first mosasaurus (the lizard from the river Meuse) fossil remains were discovered in a limestone quarry at Maastricht on the Meuse in 1764. Soft tissue has been recovered from some mosasaurus fossils. And fossils of a prehistoric mosasaurus and turtle discovered in Maastricht limestone are on display at the Maastricht Natural History Museum.
Many marine fossils (particularly bivalves and gastropods) are present in Paris limestone, including the sea snail Campanile giganteum, the largest gastropod ever found, which can measure up to 70 cm (28 inches) long. And the Buttes Chaumont gypsum quarry yielded mammal fossils, including Palaeotherium, which is like a small horse.
Near Reims, 129 km (80 miles) east-northeast of Paris, there are many marine shells in Paris limestone (which is part of the Paris sedimentary basin) including cephalopods, gastropods (such as the Campaniles giganteum), and tiny seashells, that haven’t fossilized. This has been explained by the homogeneity of the calcified rock and an impermeable clay layer above the limestone. In some places, the shells are stuck together in a tangled lump.
How could a mosasaurus be fossilized? Dead marine creatures often float on water rather than sinking to the bottom. And in both cases they are usually devoured by predators within a short period of time. But what if a mosasaurus was left at the bottom of the ocean to decay? If we assume that the mosasaurus was 1 meter thick, under current rates of deposition, it would take thousands of years to cover the body with sediment. In the meantime, nothing would be left because the body would have decayed (Appendix A). Are similar creatures being fossilized today? No, I don’t think any dolphins are being fossilized today.
As mosasaurus fossils have been found in limestone, they must have been formed under conditions that are not present on earth today. In this case, the present is not the key to the past and the assumption of uniformity is erroneous. Instead, the mosasaurus must have been buried rapidly to slow down the decaying process.
How was limestone formed?
The traditional secular (uniformitarian) explanation is that limestone forms slowly from animal skeletons and shells deposited at the bottom of a sea. For example, it is claimed that the Parisian sedimentary basin was formed when the erosion of mountains and the dislocation of the supercontinent, Pangaea, enabled the sea to deposit some 3,000 meters of sediment over a 300 million-year period (Robin et al., 2014). This is an average deposition rate of 0.01 mm per year (10 mm/kyr).
Following the sedimentation, the rock layers were uplifted and then eroded so that the limestone was either exposed at the surface of the earth, or was close enough to the surface to be accessible by open-cut or underground mining methods.
But the existence of mosasaurus fossils shows the presupposition that the rate of geological processes have been uniform over time is erroneous. When I asked a geologist why they use this assumption, he replied that it’s because otherwise there could be a multitude of scenarios for the rate of geological processes in the past! Clearly the rate of sedimentation when the fossils were buried was significantly greater than the current rate of sedimentation.
Robin et al. (2014) note that the sedimentary rock layers in the Paris region supplied building materials such as: sand for mixing mortar; sandstone for paving stones; clay for bricks, tiles and roofing tiles; limestone for building stone and lime production; and gypsum for plaster. This reminds me that God made the earth to be inhabited – “He [God] who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited” (Isa. 45:18NIV). Although this was a promise that Jerusalem and the towns of Judah would be rebuilt and inhabited after the Babylonian exile (Isa. 44:26, 28), it also reminds us that God has provided all the resources for humanity to thrive on earth. In this post we have seen that sedimentary rock layers can supply building materials. Furthermore, the valuable resources of coal, oil and natural gas can form in sedimentary rock basins.
If gradual sedimentation can’t explain the occurrence of fossils in sedimentary rock (such as limestone), the most likely biblical explanation is that most of them formed during the global flood in the time of Noah. This would have been associated with rapid sedimentation, rapid uplift of mountains and deepening of oceans, and rapid erosion. And all of this would have occurred on a large scale. This is consistent with:
– sedimentary rocks covering most of the Earth’s rocky surface (although they only make up a very small percentage of the planet’s crust), including some mountain tops.
– marine and terrestrial fossils within these rocks, including on some mountain tops.
One implication is that the sedimentary rock layers and the fossils within them, and the topography of the mountains and the oceans formed rapidly over a short period of time, rather than gradually over a long period of time. How do we know this? There is no calendar or clock in the sedimentary layers, the fossils, or the topography of the earth! But there is a clock in the Bible. It says when the flood began – “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Gen. 7:11-12). And it says when the flood ended – “By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry” (Gen. 8:13-14).
Another implication is that the formation of sedimentary rock layers and the fossils within them, and the topography of the mountains and oceans of the earth was a unique event. The rate of the formation of these today is insignificant compared to the rate that occurred during the flood (and during the ice age after the flood). How do we know this? God promised Noah, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11). We should be reminded of this whenever we see a rainbow (Appendix B).
Another implication is that the sedimentary rock layers and the fossils within them are thousands of years old, and not the millions of years old as is assumed under the assumption of uniformity of geological processes. How do we know this? There is no calendar or clock in the sedimentary layers or the fossils! But there is a calendar in the Bible. The most accurate genealogies (called chronological genealogies) occur near the beginning of time in the Bible (Gen. 5:3-32; 11:10-26).
Another implication is that the order of sedimentary layers and the fossils within them is the order of sedimentation and burial during the flood, and not the order of a hypothetical evolutionary development from simple creatures to more complex creatures. This means that all these creatures were living somewhere on earth at the same time thousands of years ago. Since then some of them have become extinct and the others remain much the same, except for the variations we see within the families of creatures today.
Limestone was mined for building purposes in the Netherlands and in France. These layers of limestone extended across large sedimentary basins. Many of the grand buildings constructed in Paris since the Middle Ages were built or faced with limestone.
Limestone contains marine fossils which can’t be explained by the current rate of sedimentation or by the assumption of uniformity of the rate of geological processes. The most likely biblical explanation for the limestone and the fossils is that most of them formed during the global flood in the time of Noah. So it’s interesting to note that what was a time of punishment for the wickedness of humanity resulted in the provision of many resources for humanity thousands of years later within sedimentary rocks.
This means that:
– Sedimentary rock layers and the fossils within them, and the overall topography of mountains and oceans, formed rapidly over a short period of time, rather than gradually over a long period of time.
– This was a unique event.
– It occurred thousands of years ago, and not millions of years ago.
– The order of sedimentary layers and the fossils within them is the order of sedimentation and burial during the flood, and not the order a hypothetical evolutionary development from simple creatures to more complex creatures.
– The geologic time scale used by geologists and palaeontologists to relate geological strata to time and to describe the timing and relationships of events that have occurred during earth’s history is an example of poor historical science because it’s assumption of uniformity is incorrect.
Appendix A: Is oceanic deposition able to fossilize creatures?
Fossils of marine creatures occur in many sedimentary rocks. The usual uniformitarian explanation given for these is that they were preserved by being covered in sediment while they lived in the ocean. Today the greatest sedimentation rate in the open ocean is said to be 5cm/kyr and that for continental shelves is said to be 50-100 cm/kyr. Most sedimentation rates are lower than these peak rates. This means that it would take at least 20kyr to cover a 1 meter thick mosasaurus in the open ocean and at least 1-2kyr to cover in a continental shelf.
But how long would a mosasaurus carcass last on the ocean bottom before it disappeared? According to observation, whale carcasses on the ocean floor can disappear quite quickly thanks to the efforts of bone devouring organisms. In many cases, the bones will have disintegrated within a decade.
The same chemical, physical, and micro-organic processes that break down tissues will also cause bones to decompose. If a body is exposed to water then bacteria and fungi will be able to invade that porous network, and seek out the proteins of the collagen within the bones, which causes those bones to break down and eventually crumble to dust!
So oceanic deposition, as it is observed today, is NOT able to fossilize large creatures like a 1 meter thick mosasaurus.
Appendix B: The symbol of God’s promise to all creation
After the flood, the rainbow was a sign of God’s covenant with Noah, all humanity and all creation (nature). Genesis 9:12-17 says:
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you [Noah] and every living creature with you [all animals], a covenant for all generations to come [all humanity]: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”
17 So God said to Noah, “This [the rainbow] is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”
Robin S, Gély J, Viré M (2014), An underground world. The catacombs of Paris, Paris Musées.
Written, September 2019