Do mammoths disprove radiocarbon dating?

With Creation Revolution remaining fairly quiet on the topic of human evolution I thought this week’s “Misguided Monday” would pass without incident. Then I found Across the Fruited Plain. It’s a site that pumps out creationist commentary at such a rate that there’s already enough


With Creation Revolution remaining fairly quiet on the topic of human evolution I thought this week’s “Misguided Monday” would pass without incident.

Then I found Across the Fruited Plain. It’s a site that pumps out creationist commentary at such a rate that there’s already enough there to keep me occupied for many moons.

So we can ill afford to stand around with lengthy introductions and instead must dive straight into one of the more egregious posts: “A Mammoth Lie

Mammoths have been used quite frequently to promote the idea of evolution theory and old habits die hard among theorists. Here once again, we see the remains of mammoths being paraded as evidence for evolution, when quite the opposite is true.

A CT scan of two mammoths from different time periods looked rather different, despite being members of the same species. But this change over time is apparently the opposite of evolution.

“High-tech scans” is intended to make us believe that these folks have the equipment (and credentials) necessary to not be wrong concerning evolution.

I’m somewhat skeptical that describing a CT scan as high-tech is part of some brainwashing campaign. CT scans are described as high-tech all the time, even by people complaining about them.

It would seem to me there isn’t really a conspiracy and “high-tech” is just phrase associated with CT scans. But in case there is a real problem I shall endeavour to only call them CT scans in this post, lest all my readers see “high tech” and become brainwashed.

Regardless of whether there is some kind of wordplay involved, at the end of the day the science stands and falls on its own. Prefacing astrology with “high-tech” doesn’t make it any more valid; nor would it render a true conclusion false.

Let’s look at a few examples of how accurate “high-tech scans” have previously been:

This section is intended to cast doubt on the reliability of the scans being used. Given the scans in question are CT scans you would rightly expect that the following examples are CT scans gone wrong.

They are not, rendering this entire tangent irrelevant. But I suppose we’ll go over it anyway, since being irrelevant doesn’t stop it being wrong.

“One part of the Vollosovitch mammoth carbon dated at 29,500 years old and another part at 44,000.” Troy L. Pewe, Quaternary Stratigraphic Nomenclature in Unglaciated Central Alaska, Geological Survey Professional Paper 862

You can find the paper being cited here and I believe it’s not behind a paywall so you should be able to read it just fine. If you do have a little look, you should notice two things.

First, the information on mammoth dates is presented in a table. This means that the direct quote given in Across the Fruited Plain is a pure fabrication. No part of the article goes “one part of the Vollosovitch mammoth…”, it’s all a table.

Secondly, none of the radiocarbon dates for mammoths given in that table are 44,000 or 29,500.

So not only is the quote a fabrication but the information contained in it is too.

“One part of Dima [a baby frozen mammoth] was 40,000, another part was 26,000 and the ‘wood immediately around the carcass’ was 9-10,000.” Troy L. Pewe, Quaternary Stratigraphic Nomenclature in Unglaciated Central Alaska, Geological Survey Professional Paper 862 (U.S. Gov. printing ofice, 1975) p. 30

Same paper (slightly different citation) same flaws: There is no direct quote saying that in the article and the dates themselves aren’t in the table either.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Dima wasn’t found until 1977 – two years after the citation was published.

The direct quote is a invented, the figures are false and the mammoth itself wasn’t even found when the source was published. How wrong can a single sentence be?

“The lower leg of the Fairbanks Creek mammoth had a radiocarbon age of 15,380 RCY (radio carbon years), while its skin and flesh were 21,300 RCY.” Harold E. Anthony, “Natures Deep Freeze,” Natural History, Sept. 1949, p. 300

Now, I haven’t been able to track down the original source for this so can’t say for sure whether the source does make this claim.

Regardless, I am very skeptical of the validity of the claim given that the first radiocarbon dates were published in December 1949, 3 months after radiocarbon had allegedly given conflicting results on the age of this mammoth.

As such this is very likely not true.

“The two Colorado Creek, AK mammoths had radiocarbon ages of 22,850 plus or minus 670 and 16,150 plus or minus 230 years respectively.” Robert M. thorson and R. Dale Guthrie, “Stratigraphy of the Colorado Creek Mammoth Locality, Alaska.” Quaternary Research, Vol. 37, No. 2, March 1992, pp. 214-228

I’m not really sure how this refutes radiocarbon dating. Two mammoths were found and shown to be from different times. So what?

The use of this example as a refutation of radiocarbon becomes especially puzzling when one checks the reference given and finds they were from different stratigraphic units.

Colorado Creek mammoth stratigraphy

In other words, two mammoths from different layers dated differently. If anything, this is a point to radiocarbon dating for being confirmed by the stratigraphy (the older layer contained the older mammoth).

How come theorists never mention that the majority of mammoths that we find are frozen solid, standing upright, with tropical vegetation still in their teeth and digestive tracks?

Whilst it is true that some mammoths have been found with vegetation in their mouths and guts, it is normally only moss and grass. To call that tropical is, I think, a rather large overstatement.

Also, as the paper linked to just now should indicate, “theorists” do mention that these mammoths were found with vegetation.

A cataclysmic event on the order of the Noahic worldwide flood would have had to have been responsible for these giants frozen instantly, intact and well preserved. They did not freeze to death slowly like animals awaiting a gradual Ice Age or else they would not have been so perfectly preserved encased in ice.

Most frozen mammoths are partly rotted, being far from the perfect condition expected if these were frozen instantly….by a flood?

How is that meant to work anyway?

You discovered two frozen mammoths, supposedly found major skeletal differences between them, but didn’t consider the differences worthy of mention?! And what, may I ask, are “major skeletal differences?”

A few seconds on google would turn up the livescience article which sparked this whole story, which contains information on what these differences were.

Lyuba’s front legs are proportionally longer than Khroma’s, and Khroma has bony ridges where her tusks would have erupted that Lyuba lacks

I’m inclined to think we have a creationist on our hands who spends more time indignantly typing than they do researching. This failing is also expressed in this next bit.

if they were pulled out of the same permafrost, then they existed at the same time.

The two mammoths, dubbed “Lyuba” and “Khroma” were found in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Lyuba is 42,000 years old, while Khroma was found in geologically older sediments

So we find two members of the same species that lived at different times and also have different anatomy. We have an example of change over time, rather nice evidence of evolution.

The response to this was to spout off irrelevant (and invented) radiocarbon inconsistencies and not bother to look up what the differences in anatomy were.

Evolution, a mammoth lie? Hardly.

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29 thoughts on “Do mammoths disprove radiocarbon dating?”

  1. 2012 and all that says:

    I am so completely and utterly speechless. I wish I could call Poe’s Law on this one but I think this person is sincere.

    1. Adam Benton says:

      The thing is that this stuff isn’t original. Trying to find the source of these figures I stumbled into dozens of creationists websites reciting the same figures. Even Kent Hovind has used inconsistent C14 dates on mammoths as proof of his point.

      1. 2012 and all that says:

        All it takes is for one for to make a claim (whether they’ve read it in a paper or not) for a thousand others to start quoting it and for anybody who has chosen to believe it to take it at face value.

        Reminds me of an argument I had with a Mormon a couple of years ago who asserted that archaeology was backing up the historicity of The Book of Mormon. When I claimed that no flora or fauna mentioned in the text had been found in North America prior to European colonisation, he quoted a paper from Science that barley was in common use amongst some native tribes. The paper was referenced by about twenty Mormon propaganda sites I read yet looking back through the Science archive, could I actually find the paper…? Answers on a postcard…

        1. Adam Benton says:

          It always happens to me when that happens because there’s always the chance they just got the reference wrong (a more than common occurrence when dealing with creationists) and so you’ll look like a fool if you start jumping up and down going “its untrue” only to have someone turn around and go “it was actually a nature article, here look.”

    2. Adam Benton says:

      I’m not sure if wordpress informed you, but in case they didn’t I’d like to draw your attention to the fact someone is talking to you in the comment below.

      1. 2012 and all that says:

        Yes I got the comment thank you; WordPress now automatically subscribes me to comments where I’ve contributed to the thread. I was going to turn it off as an annoyance but I guess there are benefits to leaving it on.

        1. Adam Benton says:

          Thing that annoys me about it is if someone comments on one my blogs I’ve also commented on I get two emails. This gets me overly excited as I think my post was more popular than it actually is.

  2. R. K. Sepetjian says:

    @2012: Thank you for not calling Poe’s Law on me. Despite how ridiculous I sound to you, I am absolutely sincere and trying to reach people for Christ by demonstrating that the Bible is accurate.

    @Adam: While I do not believe mammoths prove evolution, I was attacking a specific slide and caption which did not do your position any justice in my opinion. The fact that you had to research to help make their case for them proves that is was a poor excuse for science reporting.

    1. Adam Benton says:

      The quality of the science reporting doesn’t change the fact that your critique included many false points. Mammoths aren’t found as though they were frozen instantly, don’t have tropical food in their mouth and the radiocarbon “conflicts” were fabricated.

    2. 2012 and all that says:

      RK: I’m afraid it isn’t accurate and if you would kindly visit my blog, you will see how archaeology and historical research contradicts many claims about your bible.

      1. R. K. Sepetjian says:

        2012: Why are contradictions not allowed according to your worldview?

        1. procrastin8or says:

          What leads you to assume that my adherence to an honest and critical approach to evidence is a “worldview”?

        2. 2012 and all that says:

          And what leads you to assume that I do not permit contradictions?

  3. R. K. Sepetjian says:

    1. Are you denying that you possess a worldview?

    2. I assumed you did not permit contradictions because your reason for rejecting the Bible was due to contradictions based on “archaeology and historical research.”

    1. 2012 and all that says:

      1. Please define what you mean by a worldview

      2. I do not permit contradictions based on my presentation of and belief in contradictions? Well, I’m glad that makes sense

      1. R. K. Sepetjian says:

        By worldview, I mean nothing more sinister than your view of the world. How do you identify yourself? But most importantly, what is your ultimate authority?

        1. 2012 and all that says:

          I just wanted clarification on what you meant. “Worldview” is a word banded around a lot by anti-evolutionists but they never explain what they mean; it seems to be used as a way to blanket-label groups of people.

          For the record there is nothing in my life that I am so wrapped up in as to define myself with a single label. If I have such labels then the labels are defined by my thoughts, not the other way around. I am an individual; I act as such and I expect to be treated as such.

          My “ultimate authority” is my own conscience and critical thought processes based on evidence.

          You never explained point 2.

          Besides, how is any of this relevant to evolution or mammoths?

    2. Adam Benton says:

      Sorry to interrupt your discussion, I’ll let you get back to in a second (I feel like its some sort of coming of age to have a discussion occurring on my blog).

      I just wanted to say that I’ve left a couple of comments of on your site recently Spetjian, but they don’t seem to be showing up. When I try and post them again it says “you’ve already posted that” and won’t let me. So I just wanted to check if you got them and if not, maybe you could see if something went wrong your end. Maybe they were eaten by the spam filter or something?

      1. R. K. Sepetjian says:

        Thank you so much, Adam! I really appreciate your efforts!
        I will take a look and make sure you are properly represented!

        Gratefully,
        Rudy

  4. R. K. Sepetjian says:

    @ 2012 and all that:

    I did not neglect point 2. I was building up to it.

    I have seen “worldview” defined in the following ways:
    1.) The fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society.
    2.) The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.
    3.) A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.

    I would describe myself as having a “Biblical Worldview” which means that the Bible is my final or ultimate authority. As a result, contradictions are not allowed according to my worldview since contradictory statements amount to lying and the Bible says we are not to lie.

    Your ultimate authority, if I understood you correctly, is reason and evidence.

    Now, going back to our initial exchange, you said that you don’t accept the Bible because archaeology and historical research contradict the Bible.

    I can tell you why contradictions are not permitted by my worldview.

    Why are they not permitted by yours?

    1. 2012 and all that says:

      “I would describe myself as having a “Biblical Worldview” which means that the Bible is my final or ultimate authority. As a result, contradictions are not allowed according to my worldview since contradictory statements amount to lying and the Bible says we are not to lie.

      If you are going to dismiss anything that you do not like as anti biblical lies then there is no point in my further contribution to this discussion.

      1. R. K. Sepetjian says:

        2012–I’ve said nothing of the sort. Please point out where I said anything was “anti biblical lies.” I’m beginning to think you are purposely misunderstanding my questions since you have failed to comprehend a single point or question going on two threads now. Therefore, I will attempt to ask my question one last time in the hope that we can actually have a meaningful dialogue.

        You said you did not believe the Bible because of contradictions. Why do you reject contradictions? Where did you read, learn or find out that contradictions are falsifiers? Did you read that on the bottom of your shoe? Did your Grandma tell you that? Where did you get the information that if a contradiction exists then the source or statement is false?…Or as I originally asked it:
        Why are contradictions not allowed according to your worldview?

  5. R. K. Sepetjian says:

    I place a very high premium on accuracy. As such, I am very happy to correct any information in my post that is incorrect. A few of your points however, I am not convinced are not due to misunderstanding. Therefore, I will attempt to clarify where able.

    1.) My CT scan remark was a weak point. My intention was to point out the use of technical jargon as a smokescreen instead of furnishing hard evidence for the claim which I see with exhausting regularity.

    2.) I was not attempting to quote the original paper that contains the table. I was quoting someone who was discussing the ages laid out in the table. Therefore, neither the information nor the quote are a fabrication.

    3.) I don’t believe that we are ever going to agree on the reliability of certain dating methods so I am happy to agree to disagree with you on this one. Willard Libby, who invented carbon dating said that it could not be used to date anything beyond 3,000 years. Therefore, if you are attributing accuracy to finds older than that, you are contradicting the inventor of the method.

    4.) “In other words, two mammoths from different layers dated differently. If anything, this is a point to radiocarbon dating for being confirmed by the stratigraphy (the older layer contained the older mammoth).

    This is based on the assumption that the geologic column is something other than pure fiction. I can show you dozens of photos of petrified trees running through multiple rock layers. Therefore, it does not make sense to say that those layers are different ages if a tree is running up through them. If they were you would also expect to see erosion marks between the layers yet there are none. After all, you would think it would rain once in a few million years while the next layer is waiting to be laid down. Therefore, to come back to stratigraphy, just because I am buried on top of a hamster, does not mean that hamster is my grandfather.

    5.) “Whilst it is true that some mammoths have been found with vegetation in their mouths and guts, it is normally only moss and grass. To call that tropical is, I think, a rather large overstatement.”

    If the mammoths did not eat moss and grass, how pray-tell did moss and grass get into their teeth and intestines? To overlook this larger question and concentrate instead on the word “tropical” is to strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel.

    6.) Most frozen mammoths are partly rotted, being far from the perfect condition expected if these were frozen instantly….by a flood? How is that meant to work anyway?

    I believe the Flood brought on an immediate Ice Age.

    7.) When someone is putting forth “proof” to support their theory, it is not the responsibility as the skeptic to help them make their case for them. The reporter not only could have just as easily looked the information up and presented it, I would argue he had a responsibility to do just that. Why is it then my responsibility to defend his theory? As I mentioned earlier, your criticism should be with the bloke furnishing shoddy examples of a theory you hold to be true.

    1. Adam Benton says:

      1. Whilst I’m pretty convinced that some scientists do just make up words for fun (spend an evening with any psychoanalyst, I dare you. Although I suppose I am being generous by calling them scientists) the use of the phrase high-tech is not such an instance. It doesn’t hide anything nor is it manipulating the audience – CT scans are percieved as high-tech already.

      2. Regardless of whether the claim is of your own making or you’re simply quoting another the fact remains that the citation given does not contain evidence which supports that claim.

      3. Over time carbon dating machinery has required less and less carbon to function as the technology has improved. As such I would not be surprised if early pioneers placed limits on the applicability of carbon dating. If they had access to modern technology they would no doubt revise these limits.

      Indeed, Libby himself did such a thing (assuming he ever placed such a limit to it, I skimmed his early publications on radiocarbon and found no mention of it)
      A large thermal diffusion column similar to the one used by Dr. Grosse and his associates has been installed in the laboratory and a considerable increase in accuracy should result, permitting the measurement of samples as old as 20,000 to 25,000 years.” (Libby, Anderson & Arnold, 1949)

      4. The point is that these are two independent methods pointing to the same conclusion lending credence to them. Whilst science doesn’t operate on the principle of magic bullets, where now we can throw our arms up and go “there is some evidence, it is proven” this is certainly a point in their favour.

      Also, I’m slightly curious as to why you consider trees passing through multiple layers a problem for stratigraphy. I’ve yet to encounter a geologist who claims every single strata was deposited gradually. A river bursting its banks a few times could easily lay down a series of rapidly formed layers that would explain such phenomena. Indeed, these multiple-strata trees are found in river sediments.

      As for erosion, there is plenty of evidence that occurred with many strata containing dust eroded from other locations and blown into the area. Some Dutch sites even have a sprinkling of Asian sediments! There was erosion occurring. What features are missing you would expect to see?

      5. From the paper I linked to in the post.
      “The detritus is mostly branches of mosses, among which the following species have been identified..Polytrichum sp., Abietinella abietina…Tomentypnum nitens…Calliergon richardsonii…Hylocomium splendesn…Aul acomnium turgidum…Drepano cladus s.l., Sphagnum sect. Sphagnum (Palustria). At present, these species are widely spread from Arctic tundra to southern taiga. Drepanocladus s.l., Sphag num sect. Sphagnum, Polytrichum sp., and Calliergon richardsonii are bog species. This last moss is an Arctic and subarctic species and is very rare in the taiga zone.

      Our data demonstrate that the baby mammoth lived in tundralike landscapes. The bottom sediments in its intestine indicate that it drowned in a water body.

      As you can see there is no evidence that these mammoths lived in a tropical environment.

      1. R. K. Sepetjian says:

        Adam,

        References:
        I want you to know that I am taking a very serious look at paper 862 and the other references you mentioned. Any mistakes I have made will be corrected and noted with a shout-out to my brother Adam from across the pond who found them!

        Are you denying, however, that carbon dating has ever given different dates for the same sample(s)?

        Carbon Dating:
        I just do not share your belief that carbon dating is without problems. For instance, we know that marine sample date older due to contact with older carbon. My question to you is, when observing ANY sample, how would you determine if it’s getting it’s carbon from an older source, thus making its date unreliable?

        Furthermore, when I point out that different samples have dated wildly apart, critics explain it away by saying the sample(s) became contaminated by objects with which they were stored. Well then, if that is true, how can we know if ANY sample we are observing has been contaminated over time by other carbon sources? In other words, how can we ever be sure we are observing an uncontaminated sample?

        Stratigraphy:
        A tree passing through multiple layers of rock is not a problem to the Creationist who can see the evidence of the worldwide flood and who knows those layers were not laid down over billions of years. It is a problem, however, for the geologist who claims that the layers that tree is running through were laid down over billions of years. I’m not just trying to argue for a worldwide flood based on a few riverside trees in one place on earth that got buried, Adam. But everything we observe, from the stratigraphy, to the canyons, coal seams, coal beds, natural gas pockets, and oil pockets all point to a worldwide flood. Hydrological sorting and liquifaction are just two examples of how layers can be deposited quickly.

        Erosion:
        Grand Canyon is just one of many examples where the layers clearly have no erosion marks or cracks between them. Again, that would make sense in the light of a worldwide flood like the Bible teaches where that canyon was formed with a lot of water over a small period of time, not a little bit of water over a long period of time. I have also seen examples where the rock layers are rippled demonstrating that all the layers were soft at one time but then hardened after rippling. This could not have happened slowly over billions of years.

        Mammoth:
        I too could have predicted that the mammoth drown in water…like a flood.
        If the poles were never tropical, why do we find coal beds 20 feet beneath the ice?

        Finally, how did those exams go?? I’ve been thinking about them/you.

        1. Adam Benton says:

          Radiocarbon dating is, unfortunately, far from a perfect science. Data can be influenced by a range of confounding variables; such as contamination or the “old” carbon effect you mentioned. Of course, there are some methods that can be employed to limit these variables. As soon as a sample is found it can’t be touched. On top of that it is also a continually evolving field, with new advances being made regularly. These allow more accurate dates to be obtained, prompting people to redate important sites. Such advances have pushed the date for the first human occupation of Europe from ~30 kya to ~40 kya.

          Given all of these factors I would not be surprised if you could produce two dates for a single site that were different. However, I would be very surprised if you could produce such different dates for an appropriate sample (i.e. one within the range of radiocarbon dating) dated using the same method (e.g. not using better equipment/calibration curves for one date) where no such confounding variables were present (e.g. all anti-contamination methods were employed during excavation).

          As for the “old” carbon effect you mentioned, that is a product of the properties of water. It turns over carbon at a slower rate than the atmosphere, trapping “old” carbon in it for longer. Thus it isn’t much of a problem when dealing with samples found on land. However, some factors do sometimes alter the radiocarbon found on land. For example, some bacteria that lives in rocks can produce it making an old sample appear younger. However, these bacteria produce radiocarbon in such small quantities that it only becomes a problem when measuring very, very old samples you wouldn’t use radiocarbon dating on anyway.

          ——

          Yes, they are a problem if one is presuming that these layers are very old. However, I’ve yet to meet the geologist who is arguing that every single stratigraphic layer is formed slowly. They don’t deny that floods, landslides or volcanoes can still occur and can still deposit a rather large amount of sediment rather rapidly. Crucially, these types of deposition are identifiable. As I mentioned earlier they can detect that it was river sediment which buried these trees – indicating they were buried rapidly by a river breaching its banks – and volcanic tuff is extremely noticeable (and unique to each volcanic eruption), for example.

          Conversely this means that the non-rapidly deposited sediments are noticeably different from the ones that are. You cannot extrapolate from this tree and go “therefore the world was covered by a flood.” Now, I’m not saying you’re doing that (you make it very clear you aren’t) my point is that this tree is neither an argument against modern geology, since it doesn’t claim floods are impossible, nor is it a point for a global flood, since other strata are distinctly different.

          —-

          Again I must ask, what exactly is it that is missing? And why would you expect to see them? “Cracks” and “erosion marks” are very vague terms.

          —-

          I thought the mammoth froze quickly in an ice age caused by the flood?

          Anyhoo, I didn’t claim that the polar environments never were tropical, just that they weren’t tropical whilst mammoths were living there. Over time the environment has changed rather dramatically and continental drift has moved places around. Antarctica, for example, used to be near where Australia is now. Of course, by the time the mammoths approached these areas (granted, they were in the Arctic rather than the Antarctic) they were a lot colder. Mammoths lived from ~5 millions years ago onwards whilst Antarctica was having fun in the north hundreds of millions of years ago.

          Whilst you might want to attribute such dramatic shifts to the flood the fact is you can’t. Whilst many young earth creationists like to attribute “the” ice age to the flood, for example, this glosses over that there were many other ice ages. Indeed, in the last ~500,000 years there were ~30! In between them there were people living and having fun, they can’t have all happened rapidly over the year or so the flood was meant to have happened in. But if you try and overlay these changes onto a Biblical timescale you wind up with a major glaciation even occurring every 200 years! And that’s just including the last 99% of geological history, ignoring the changes to Antarctica etc.

  6. David Storm says:

    I think you’ll all a little crazed! Your trying to combine science with the bible and they both are flawed and changed to fit the powers that may be,at that time. Not to worry..your government will take care of you!
    The Great Flood was not a world wide thing! The bible is a book about the family of Adam! C14 dating
    is a joke

  7. Hugh Farey says:

    The 1949 article by Harold E Anthony (“Natures Deep Freeze”, Natural History, Sept. 1949) from which the quote above (“The lower leg of the Fairbanks Creek mammoth had a radiocarbon age of 15,380 RCY (radio carbon years), while its skin and flesh were 21,300 RCY.”) is allegedly taken, can be found at https://archive.org/stream/naturalhistory5859newy#page/n323/mode/1up/search/freeze.
    There is, of course, no such quote, and no mention of radiocarbon dating at all.

    1. Adam Benton says:

      Very interesting. It seems I was only scratching the surface of how wrong his claim is

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