Are There 800 Billion Vertebrate Fossils Buried in the Karoo Formation?

Published in the Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 4, pg. 201

Gordon E. Davidson
(A Response to Bill Yake)
I would like to respond to Mr Yake’s letter in the June 1995 issue of the CRSQ. Mr. Yake asks about the Karoo Supergroup (not Karroo [1] Formation) deposits in [South] Africa. He states that it has been estimated that the Karoo contains some 800 billion vertebrate fossils.

Morris and Whitcomb (1977, p. 160) attribute this estimate to Robert Broom via a second reference; Kitching (1977, p. 6) stated ‘Broom (1932) gave some astronomical figure for the number of fossil vertebrates that might be preserved in the whole of the Beaufort series’ [of the Karoo].
Unfortunately he did not say in which citation from 1932 Broom made his estimate (I have cited the one with the most general topic). So Robert Broom in 1932 estimated that 800 billion fossil vertebrates might be preserved in the Beaufort group of the Karoo Supergroup. How does one substantiate that kind of number? How does one estimate how many fossils are buried in a rock unit? In a block of one degree latitude by one degree longitude containing the town of Graaff-Reinet there are 75 fossil vertebrate sites; the same [size] block containing the town of Kroonstad has only five sites (Kitching, 1977). Each site represents at least one fossil, and often more than one. How does one take this data systematically so that a realistic estimate can be made? While I have yet to see how Broom made his estimate, intuition tells me that in his excitement about the Karoo fossils, he overestimated the number of specimens that could still be buried in the Karoo rocks. I asked the director of the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontology in Johannesburg how many Karoo fossils have actually been collected; he broadly estimated around 40,000. While this estimate may be conservative, it is certainly not an order of magnitude wrong. Obviously, there are still more fossils buried in the Karoo (I have seen quite a few in situ, and many fossils are left behind for school field trips [2] . The question is how does one estimate how many fossils are still buried?

One must also keep in mind how fossils are formed and preserved. In order for the Karoo vertebrates to be preserved as fossils, they must have been buried almost immediately after death. Otherwise, if they just lay around on the ground or float in the water, scavengers, bacteria, and natural oxidation processes decompose the remains until nothing is left of the animal. In order to bury and preserve the large amount of vertebrate animals [that] have been found in the Karoo, evolutionists must continually invoke local floods. On the other hand, the Genesis Flood provides a large-scale mechanism in which all these vertebrate animals could be rapidly buried and thus preserved.

Ken Ham asks the question in his talks ‘Are fossils found where the animal lived, where it died, or where it was buried?’ Only the last statement can be stated empirically. Since evolutionists do not believe in a world-wide flood, they assume the first two statements to be true also. However, fossil graveyards tend to be areas where a large number of animals are catastrophically funnelled into an area from other areas and rapidly buried. The Genesis Flood offers a large-scale mechanism in which to do this for the Karoo Basin.

Broom, R. 1932. The mammal-like reptiles of South Africa and the origin of mammals. H.F. and
G. Witherby. London. (cited from Kitching, 1977).
Ham, K. How to give a creation talk (audio tape). Creation Science Foundation, Brisbane (date
of recording unknown).
Kitching, J.W. [3]
1977. The distribution of the Karoo vertebrate fauna. Memoir No. 1, Bernard
Price Institute for Paleontological Research. University of the Witwatersrand.
South African Committee for stratigraphy (SACS). 1980. Stratigraphy of South Africa. Part I
(Comp. L.E. Kent), Lithostratigraphy of the Republic of South Africa, South West-Africa
/ Namibia, and the Republics of Bophuthatswana, Transkei, and Venda, Handbook 8,
Geological Survey South Africa.
Whitcomb, J.C., and Morris, H.M., 1961. The Genesis Flood. The Presbyterian and Reformed
Publishing Company. Philadelphia.

The proper spelling is ‘Karoo’ not ‘Karroo’, as defined by SACS in 1980 (p. 536). Where older publications use
‘Karroo’ in the title, the older spelling is retained (the original spelling was ‘Karoo’).
Some specimens, such as Lystrosaurus, have been ‘over-collected’; the National Museum in Bloemfontein alone
reportedly has 4000 Lystrosaurus specimens. A paleontologist I know has left several Lystrosaurus fossils in situ on
a Karoo farm for school field trips, so the kids can ‘discover’ them.
I heard a humorous anecdote recently about James Kitching, the famous Karoo fossil hunter, who although retired,
still comes to work every day and does field work. He was in the field with a younger paleontologist early this year;
while they were walking, the younger paleontologist noticed that Kitching had stepped over a Lystrosaurus fossil
protruding out of the ground. Thinking that the old man was starting to lose his touch, the younger paleontologist
said, “Hey, you just stepped over a Lystrosaurus!” Kitching replied “I don’t bend over for Lystrosaurus any more”
without missing a step. Even in his seventies, he still leaves the ‘youngsters’ in the dust of his wake!

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