Steve Austin’s Nautiloid Fossils

It was probably 90 degrees under a blazing hot sun when we hiked with Dr. Steve Austin to see one of his nautiloid beds.  We had already driven 20 miles down a bumpy gravel road with scrub brush, cactus, and tall rocks off to either side, when Steve suddenly said, “stop here.”  We parked our bruised mini-vans to one side, climbed out, sorted through the cameras and gear, pulled on our backpacks, and marched off.  The dry brush caught at our feet and little burrs worked their way into our shoes as we tramped along. (Disclaimer: These are from my iPhone. There’s a reason why I don’t do the filming…)

We were hiking down an old water course, so it twisted back and forth as we descended toward the river many miles away. We kept asking Steve how far we had to go, and he kept saying, “just around the corner up here.”  We eventually stopped asking.  After an hour, he pointed up to a ridge and said: “There’s a good one up there.”  So we hiked up the hill and looked at our first nautiloid, it was great.  We then had to continue on around a corner or two to end up at the larger Nautiloid bed:

This was a big deal for me.  The first thing I read on the Grand Canyon was Steve’s excellent book Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe.  It is a good introduction to Steve’s work, and I read it with much interest at the start of my project.  One of the things that stood out to me was his commentary about nautiloid fossils in the Redwall Limestone.  When I finished reading about it, I thought, I want to film Steve Austin showing me those nautiloids.  And here we were, a year later, filming him in front of them.

So why are these fossils so interesting?  They provide unique evidence for how the Flood destroyed an enormous number of creatures quickly, then froze them in place.  We had actually intended on including a segment in the film on nautiloids, but had to cut it out to save time. (I realized we would discuss similar things in Art Chadwick’s segment on the bone bed, anyway.) Here it is:

Since I couldn’t stop in the middle of the film and make bullet points, perhaps it’s better to have included it here.  These are my takeaways:

  • The conventional view assumes that the ocean slowly transgressed and regressed (rose and sank) over the continent many times throughout millions of years, each time forming new layers as it gradually moved up and down. Many of the fossils in those layers would have been formed through the normal process of animals dying, sinking to the bottom, and slowly being covered.
  • The nautiloid bed provides evidence for a catastrophic, rapid burial.  There is a single, approximately 7-foot layer that has all the nautiloids buried right in the middle of it, but runs for over 100 miles across the Grand Canyon.  Steve has seen this same nautiloid bed at over two dozen locations throughout the canyon. The fact that the nautiloids are neatly centered in the bed argues for a catastrophic mud flow that Steve has worked out mathematically in terms of hydrodynamics.  (One clarification that was easier to see when there: the layer of limestone that was higher up at one end of the canyon we were in had been dropped down, then eroded away further up; that’s what we stood over. They are the same layer.)
  • The fossils are in a generally aligned pattern.  We could actually see it in the rock beneath our feet.  In his book, Steve charts them on a orientation diagram showing how they align. (p.27)
  • 1 out of 7 fossils are vertical, standing straight up.  This amazed everyone. We could see the circle in front of us where the exposed shell had been eroded away. When you stop and think about it, how could hundreds of thousands of these creatures end up vertical if they died and floated to the bottom, then took thousands of years for the mud to slowly accumulate and cover them? Rather, the picture of a mass kill through a mud flow sweeping millions of them along then suddenly freezing them makes far more sense.

All to say, the nautiloid bed was a fascinating part of capturing the story for Is Genesis History? We will eventually include the full interview with Steve at his nautiloid beds on his Extended Interview DVD, coming out later this year.

P.S. Here’s what we looked liked walking out…