Snelling: Recent Carbon Dates for Cretaceous Wood

In 2008, Andrew Snelling submitted Cretaceous fossil ammonite and wood samples to a dating facility. The results are here. Snelling claims that contamination could not possibly have affected the samples. However, if they were not contaminated, we have to accept that their carbon-14 content is endogenous. Does someone want to share his thoughts on this?


Good question. I’m curious what @davidson and @Joel_Duff might know.

Are you familiar with this @jammycakes?

Amazing that none of these amazing 14C results claimed by YECs are never repeatable by any non-YECs. There’s also the small problem that 14C dates of 32,000 YBP to 48,000 YBP completely falsify Snelling’s 4300 YBP Noah’s Flood claims.

Can Snelling explain why, if these samples are not contaminated and all supposedly died and were buried at the same time in Noah’s Flood, the samples have such a wide disparity in dates? Oops!

Snelling has a long and very dubious track record of making unsupported and demonstrably false claims. I don’t think the Earth’s actual age is in much danger from this YEC nonsense. :slightly_smiling_face:


Different dating methods validate each other:


No contamination? How can he know that? Was he there? Sarcasm aside, just check out this important paper that just came out about tissue preservation. They did C14 measurements of dinosaur bones and yeah, there is a lot of it but its clearly contamination as shown by many other measures of the same bones. “Cretaceous dinosaur bone contains recent organic material and provides an environment conducive to microbial communities”


Joel Duffs article on varves in Japan links to a paper by Ken Wolgemuth and I addressing the reliability of carbon-14 dating and YEC tactics designed to sow doubt in peoples’ minds. It specifically addresses the measurable carbon-14 found in samples supposedly millions of years old. The vast majority of what YEC claim cannot be contamination is demonstrably contamination. In brief - when ancient graphite is analyzed directly on an accelerator mass spec, they get instrumental readings of about 0.003 percent modern carbon - noise in the system. When the same graphite is processed using the chemical treatments designed to remove contaminants from organic samples, the result is a about 0.3 percent modern carbon. Which is the level of carbon-14 YEC are keying in on.
Why do a treatment that adds contamination you ask? Because a sample likely has much more contamination than this in the form of bacteria, finger prints, groundwater, etc. that needs to be cleaned away. It is like wiping a dirty window with a sequence of fresh towels. Micro fibers from the towel add to the dirt on the window, but the first few towels take away far more dirt than they leave behind. Eventually, fresh towels leave as many micro-fibers on the glass as they wipe away. With carbon-14, this residual from sample processing is known as the laboratory background, which gets subtracted from the measured analytical value.


Forgot to link to the carbon-14 paper:


This reminds me that I need to update that article and include those newer links and highlight your paper on the blog. Its the best thing out there right now and needs to be the place that anyone starts if they want to be informed on this topic.


Of course he’s likely to be quite wrong about that, no matter how strongly he insists this isn’t the case.

But even were it the case, in situ C14 generation is a known fact. It has been shown that even several hundred million year old samples contain non-neglible amounts of intrinsic C14. That C14, however, turns out to be continously generated by (among other things) neutron radiation from nearby radioactive elements in the rocklayers between which the carbon of interest(be it coal, diamond, natural gas, tars, crude oil or whatever) is found.

It was something of a mystery for a time why such old carbon sources contained C14 as it was thought (correctly) that the cosmic radiation responsible for generating atmospheric C14 could not penetrate the crust to the depths in which coal, oil, diamond and so on is found. However, in calculating the expected C14 contents of ground fossil hydrocarbons, geologists had apparently neglected to consider intrinsic neutron radiation generated by the slow continous decay of radioactive isotopes usually found in the types of rocks where one also find fossil hydrocarbons(1):

A PhD thesis(1) was written a few years ago in which it is shown that intrinsic C14 production by neutron radiation is unavoidable and in fact does fully account for the observed levels of C14 in (for example) fossil hydrocarbons:

This could account for the misleading carbon ages Snelling declares with great and irrefutable conviction couldn’t possibly be due to contamination in his “carbon dated” fossils.

(1) Resconi, E. (2001). Measurements with the upgraded counting test facility CTF-2 of the solar neutrino experiment Borexin.


The problem I have with this is that some samples have pmC values well above 1%. And if background levels are subtracted, then how can we ascribe these values to instrument background?

Part of the problem in discussions of this type is the weight placed on “one off” studies. A couple studies with anomalous results, or with results that don’t have a ready explanation are used by young-earth advocates to claim the whole system of dating is unreliable. Yet they ignore the robust, rigorously tested studies that have no other possible explanation than that nature has been behaving predictably for a very long time. The Davidson & Wolgemuth paper walks through the evidence and the ways YEC twist it to make it seem to say something it does not.


We can ascribe them to the numerous other possible sources of contamination, such as microbial contamination. Anyone arguing for young dinosaur fossils need to show that other known sources of contamination are controlled for. In my own experience in other parts of science, 99% of the effort in a lab is honing the methodology so you can trust the results. Simply measuring a sample willy-nilly is a recipe for disaster.


Remind us again how did Snelling ascertain there was no contamination of the specimens?


Not this one, though it looks a bit like a rehash of the RATE project. Here are a couple of observations though.

First, the amount of standard background that they subtracted was only 0.077% modern carbon, representing an age of almost 60,000 years. This is in no way sufficient to account for all possible contamination vectors. Contamination comes from a variety of different directions – in situ, collection, storage and sample preparation as well as from instrument background. It also varies widely from one sample to the next and it can be as high as 0.5pMC.

But that’s assuming that he followed all the correct procedures and protocols right the way through from sample collection to final processing, that everything was done as he described in the paper, and that no mistakes were made at any step in the process. Since you’re talking about procedures that are easy to get wrong and difficult to get right, and since his paper hasn’t been peer reviewed by actual radiocarbon experts, until and unless findings of this nature are ever replicated by other researchers who do not have any particular young-earth axe to grind, we can only assume that he did not.

No “standard background” is going to account for all forms of contamination anyway. Because contamination varies widely from one sample to the next, any “standard background” that did cover everything would lead to some results being negative, which is of course nonsense.

Snelling claims that treatment with strong acids and bleaches will remove all contamination. This is not true. Acids and bleaches will in fact introduce contamination, because they will inevitably contain small amounts of modern CO2 dissolved from the atmosphere.

In any case, the range of ages reported – 32,000 to 48,000 years – represents a variation in carbon-14 quantities by a factor of seven. That is a very large variation for quantities that we are expected to believe to have originated at the same time in the same circumstances.

Finally, one also needs to remember that the RATE project – of which Andrew Snelling was a part – ended up admitting that squeezing other lines of radiometric evidence into 6,000 years would have raised the Earth’s temperature to 22,000°C. That being the case, it’s going to take a lot more than this study to convince anyone that this really was intrinsic radiocarbon and not contamination.

This study is nothing more nor less than another YEC example of trying to bake a cake using a Department of Transport weighbridge to weigh out your ingredients, and then when the results come out all mushy, claiming it means that Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson, Ina Garten, Ree Drummond and Heston Blumenthal are all so bad at cooking that for all we know they could be telling us to make rat poison on their TV shows.

Baking a cake for your daughter’s birthday party, YEC style


He described several processes used at the the IsoTrace facility that are capable of removing sources of contamination. Snelling didn’t perform those measurements. Roelf Beukens did, as indicated by the lab report. Presumably, Beukens had no idea that the samples were taken from cretaceous strata. That’s why I tried to contact him. But I failed. If someone could find a way to contact him, that would certainly help to resolve this issue. I think the carbon “ages” of the fossil ammonites can be readily explained by their calcite content. However, it can not be denied that that some fossil wood samples (especially RNCW-1) have anomalously high pmC-values. That’s what bugs me the most. Afterall, fossil wood does not get contaminated easily and even if it were contaminated, the severe pretreatment of the sample should have eliminated this.

Did you not read jammycakes’ detailed explanation about contamination in 14C measurements?

What about the huge spread in dates for objects supposedly killed / buried by the same one year event?


What do you think this helps demonstrate then @Ignostic? It seems you are trying to present this as evidence that this fossilized Wood really just died between 32,000 and 48,000 years ago and this the Cretaceous period also occurred then. That’s over five times older than Snelling thinks the entire universe is. But even then, it is very important to look at in the context of more measurements of the Cretaceous period.

Like let’s take an example from the K-T boundary using many independent radiometric dating series and techniques in multiple labs. You get something like this:

This helps establish that this Cretaceous wood is older than 65 mya. In light of this evidence how should we consider Snelling’s measurement? Does Snelling’s measurement provide strong evidence that all of these other measurements are wrong or is it more likely that his sample was contaminated with trace amounts of carbon? The answer is painfully obvious to those in the thread but you seem to think this one measurement demonstrates something significant. So what is that again exactly?


I’ve taken another look at Snelling’s paper and there are a couple more things that I noticed. First of all this:

The ammonite shells could not have been contaminated in the ground by replacement with modern carbonate 14C either, because they yielded almost identical 14C apparent ages as the wood buried and fossilized with them.

Here is the data:

  • RNCS-2: 36,400±350; RNCW-2: 37,150±330.
  • RNCS-4: 48,710±930; RNCW-4B: 42,390±510 (RNCW-4A no data)

“Almost identical”? In neither case do the error bars overlap! Granted, they come close in case 2, but in case 4 they are off by a factor of four, which puts them well outside the “almost identical” zone. In any case, this is far too small a sample size to justify a conclusion of this nature.

The second point is the photographs that he has taken. All the samples were collected from the surface, in a place that gets an average rainfall of 34.61 inches/year, and in fact one of the photographs even shows a puddle. Does he seriously expect us to believe that groundwater contamination will not be a major problem here?

Anyway I have some other concerns with this paper.

First: it has never been satisfactorily peer reviewed by independent radiocarbon experts, nor has it ever been replicated by other research groups. Without expert peer review there is no guarantee that he consistently followed the best practices in the field, and without replication of his study there is no guarantee that he even did exactly what he claimed that he did in the paper without making any mistakes.

Second: Andrew Snelling has a track record of making demonstrably false claims, some of which even appear to show evidence of being made in bad faith. For example, in his claim about rock layers in the Grand Canyon being folded without fracturing he presented a photograph that had people standing in front of fractures that are clearly visible in other photographs of the same rock fold:

Third: As I said, the RATE project, of which Andrew Snelling was a part, admitted that they could not account for all the radiometric evidence from other sources within a young-earth timescale without resorting to claims of accelerated nuclear decay on a scale that would have raised the Earth’s temperature to a whopping 22,000°C. This point alone should be sufficient to show that any claims of evidence for a young Earth are almost certain to be erroneous and should be treated with a high degree of scepticism by everyone, Bible believing Christians included.


No, I do not think that Snelling’s paper convincingly shows that this wood is young. I am simply trying to understand how radiocarbon dating of cretaceous wood could yield such baffling results. Maybe the samples were contaminated, but Snelling takes this possibility into account and he goes to great lengths in order to show that they were not contaminated.
@jammycakes I appreciate your comments but Snelling partially addressed your criticism in his paper:

However, any soluble inorganic carbonate carbon in the ground and surface waters would not have exchanged with the insoluble organic carbon in the wood, because the two forms of carbon are incompatible. Also, as noted previously, any carbonate mineral deposited within or onto the wood by ground or surface waters would have also been removed by the severe demineralizing treatment with hot and strong acids in the laboratory prior to the radiocarbon analyses. Indeed, the laboratory’s reports (Beukens 2007a, b) described the fossilized wood residues as possibly consisting of humic or tannic compounds and needles with a carbon content, all of which were insoluble in the hot strong acids and alkalis used in their demineralizing treatment. As it was only these insoluble organic carbon residues that were subsequently analysed for radiocarbon, there would not have been any contamination of them with modern radiocarbon from either ground or surface waters or even the atmosphere. Such exchanges with the wood could only have occurred when the original trees were alive.

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