How Old Are the Fossils?

Fossil Exhibits

on June 2, 2016

In museum fossil exhibits, you’ll often see statements such as, “This fossil is 65 million years old.” How are these ages determined?

Fossils themselves are not usually directly dated. They are not found with tags that indicate their age. Instead, rock layers that contain supposed datable igneous (volcanic and plutonic) rocks above or below a fossil are used to estimate the age of the fossil. The age of the fossil is based on the range of ages assigned to the layers above and below it. However, as we’ve seen elsewhere (“How old are the rocks?”), many assumptions are involved in dating rock layers using radioisotope methods. Research has shown that the millions or billions of years results are not reliable.

“Index fossils” are also used to assign ages to some rock layers. This method assumes that the distribution of index fossils and the correlation of strata are well understood on a global scale. Where do the ages of index fossils come from? Again, the ages are based on many assumptions about past events and have been shown to be unreliable.

So how old are the fossils? Most are the remains of the global Flood 4,300 years ago. Some are from the Ice Age, while others are from localized post-Flood catastrophes.

Creationist geologists and paleontologists continue to debate which fossil layers are from the Flood and which formed later. They are working on presenting a cohesive model of the fossil record. However, we can say for certain that the fossils are at most thousands of years old—not millions.

What Can We Learn from Fossils?

Many of the more ancient animal specimens featured throughout museums are based on fossilized bones. As you examine the creatures, think about which parts of the display are actually based on the fossils and which are interpretations.

For example, can we really know the exact diet of an animal based on its tooth structure? Can we know where it lived? How it moved? What color it was? Whether it was warm-blooded or cold-blooded? How it interacted with other animals? When it lived? When and how it died?

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Museum Guide

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