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March 12, 2014 / BTM

God’s Fingerprints Inside The Earth!

Child's Shovel and Pail at the BeachGod has left us clues inside the earth – in the form of fossils – to discover more about what happened during the earth’s unobserved past.  I posted about the significance of the fossil record last week.  This post provides the accompanying activity.

To introduce our kids to the evidence of the fossil record and particularly to that of the Cambrian Explosion, I recreated a fossil dig in our backyard. 

I visited The Virtual Fossil Museum and printed pictures of Precambrian and Cambrian fossils and taped them to large, flat rocks.

By the way, you will note that the Virtual Fossil Museum confirms evolution, yet also recognizes that…

Prior to the Cambrian life was small and simple.  In the Cambrian Period, prodigious change occured, all in the oceans, as the land remained barren.  Except for enigmatic forms, all modern animal phyla with a fossil record, except bryozoa, are represented in the Cambrian.

…but they offer no explanation about how this is possible through evolution.

When you visit The Virtual Fossil Museum, you’ll notice right away the incredible difference between the two eras of fossils.  In the Precambrian fossils, you’ll basically find rocks with what looks like coloured striations across them.  These are bands of small creatures that have been deposited in layers over many years.  In the Cambrian fossils, you’ll see distinct, complex and recognizable body plans.  The difference is striking.

I printed more Cambrian era fossils than Precambrain ones because there were more to print, and because we see much more diversity in the Cambrian era than prior to it.  I dug out a bunch of sand from our sandbox and buried the Precambrian ‘fossil replicas’ (pictures taped to flat rocks) in a single layer.  I covered these with about a foot of sand, and then buried the Cambrian era ‘fossil replicas’ I’d made at this higher depth.  Then I covered these with the rest of the sand.  This was to mimic how real paleontologists would have found the fossils.

We had to explain the reverse logic of a fossil dig to our kids: the fossils on top were younger than the fossils on the bottom.  We explained how fossils would deposit in layers that corresponded to timeframes (eras), and that when we were digging for our fossils, we needed to keep the fossils in those timeframes so that we could do our comparisons.

Our kids had a lot of fun digging up the buried fossil treasures.  We laid them out in rows, the oldest Precambrian ones in a row on top of the younger Cambrian ones.  We compared them in as many ways as possible.  The most obvious difference was the degree of development between the two eras.

Then we explained to our kids that for a long, long time the only fossils we saw in the fossil record were the simple Precambiran ones.  Then, very, very quickly, we suddenly saw the Cambrian era ones, fully developed, completely different, with no gradual in-between stages recorded in the fossil record.

To illustrate, we provided Jonathan Well’s 24 hour clock analogy.  If we changed the time in the fossil record to a 24 hour clock, for most of the day (ie: most of the geological past) we would only see the simple Precambrian fossils.  For 21 hours of our geological day, we would only see Precambrian fossils.  Then, during the 21st hour, for about two minute’s worth of geological time, we find most of the world’s major animal forms that we still have today, and these types of fossils continue until present day (or the 24th our of our geological clock).  There are no in-between fossils; just simple fossils, then complex ones.

How did that happen?

When we did this activity with our kids, they were 5 and 7.  Understanding geological time and the suddenness of the appearance of the Cambrian fossils was a bit difficult for them to grasp, but the purpose of the activity was to introduce them to the facts, not necessarily all the logic behind them.  We only noted that it would be impossible for the simple animals of the Precambrian era to suddenly change by themselves into the more complex Cambrian era ones.  That was about the amount of logic they were prepared for at that time.

The purpose of all the activities in this blog that are designed for younger children is to introduce young kids to facts.  When they get a bit older and capable of understanding logic, we will begin to build logic in.  Just seeing the differences in the fossils, and learning how suddenly they appeared is enough at this stage to build on later.

Photo credit: Microsoft

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