How Does Wood Petrify?


Wood must first be covered with such agents as volcanic ash, volcanic lava flow, volcanic mud-flows, sediments in lakes and swamps or material washed in by violent floods - by any means which would exclude oxygen and thus prevent decay. A number of mineral substances (such as calcite, pyrite, marcasite) can cause petrification, but by far the most common is silica. Solutions of silica dissolved in ground water infiltrate the buried wood and through a complex chemical process are precipitated and left in the individual plant cells. Here the silica may take a variety of forms; it may be agate, jasper, chalcedony or opal. The beautiful and varied colors of petrified wood are caused by the presence of other minerals that enter the wood in solution with the silica. Iron oxide stains the wood orange, rust, red or yellow. Manganese oxide produces blues, blacks or purple.



Mineralized fossil bone

Fossil bone can be mineralized in several ways. Permineralized fossils have their original pore space infilled with minerals. Permineralization is commonly confused with petrification, in which the original material of an organism is replaced with minerals, and the pore space is infilled with minerals. In other words, petrification is a combination of permineralization and replacement.

By far, permineralization is the most common type of preservation for most fossil bone, and even when petrification has occurred, there is almost invariably evidence that permineralization occurred first (otherwise, there would be no preservation of the original cavities in the bone!). So, if you are wondering what petrified bone looks like, imagine the bone material being replaced by other minerals, sometimes preserving the fine structure of the bone, sometimes not, and the open pore spaces infilled as seen here. I plan to eventually present some truly petrified bone eventually.

In either case, the boundary between the original, open pore space and the replaced material is quite obvious, because of variations in the shape and orientation of the crystals infilling the pores. In the case of the Haversian canals of bone, this is usually indicated by concentric growth of crystals from the inner surface of the canal towards the interior, often with clear radially-arranged crystals and/or layers of different minerals at early infilling versus later stages.

For more information on bone fossilization processes, including illustrations, see Reid (1996) and Hubert et al. (1996).

‘Instant’ Petrified Wood


‘Instant petrified wood’ — so ran the heading to the announcement in Popular Science, October 1992 [1]. It’s also the reality of research conducted at the Advanced Ceramic Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle (USA).

Researchers have also made wood-ceramic composites that are 20–120% harder than regular wood, but still look like wood. Surprisingly simple, the proces involves soaking wood in a solution containing silicon and aluminium compounds. The solution fills the pores in the wood, which is then oven-cured at 44°C (112°F). According to the lab’s research director, Daniel Dobbs, such experiments have impregnated the wood to depths of about 5 millimetres (0.2 inches). Furthermore, deeper penetration under pressure and curing at higher temperature have yielded a rock-hard wood-ceramic composite that has approached petrified wood.

Patent 'Recipe' for Petrification

However, priority for the discovery of a 'recipe' for petrification of wood must go to Hamilton Hicks of Greenwich, Connecticut (USA), who on September 16, 1986 was issued with US Patent Number 4,612,050. [2] According to Hicks, his chemical 'cocktail' of sodium silicate (commonly known as 'water glass'), natural spring or volcanic mineral water having a high content of calcium, magnesium, manganese and other metal salts, and citric or malic acid is capable of rapidly petrifying wood. But in case you want to try this 'recipe,' you need to know that for artificial petrification to occur there is some special technique for mixing these components in the correct proportions to get an 'incipient' gel condition.

Hicks wrote:

'When applied to wood, the solution penetrates the wood. The mineral water and sodium silicate are relatively proportioned so the solution is a liquid of stable viscosity and is acidified to the incipient jelling [gelling] condition to a degree causing jelling [gelling] after penetrating the wood, but not prior thereto. That is to say, the solution can be stored and shipped, but after application to the wood, jells [gels] in the wood. When its content is high enough, the penetrated wood acquires the characteristics of petrified wood. The wood can no longer be made to burn even when exposed to moisture or high humidity, for a prolonged period of time. The apparent petrification is obtained quickly by drying the wood. [3]

The patent indicates that the amount of acid in the solution appears to have a critical effect on the production of the gel phase within the cell structure of the wood, although evaporation also plays its part. Wood thoroughly impregnated, even if necessary by repeated applications or submersions of the wood in the solution, after drying evidently has all the characteristics of petrified wood, including its appearance.

Both Hicks and the researchers at the University of Washington lab have suggested potential uses for such 'instant' petrified woods:

Rapid Natural Petrification

The chemical components used to artificially petrify wood can be found in natural settings around volcanoes and within sedimentary strata. Is it possible then that natural petrification can occur rapidly by these processes? Indeed! Sigleo [4] reported silica deposition rates into blocks of wood in alkaline springs at Yellowstone National Park (USA) of between 0.1 and 4.0 mm/yr.

From Australia come some startling reports. Writing in The Australian Lapidary Magazine, Pigott [5] recounts his experiences in southwestern Queensland:

'. . . from Mrs McMurray [of Blackall], I heard a story that rocked me and seemed to explode many ideas about the age of petrified wood. Mrs McMurray has a piece of wood turned to stone which has clear axe marks on it. She says the tree this piece came from grew on a farm her father had at Euthella, out of Roma, and was chopped down by him about 70 years ago. It was partly buried until it was dug up again, petrified. Mac McMurray capped this story by saying a townsman had a piece of petrified fence post with the drilled holes for wire with a piece of the wire attached.

'Petrified wood thousands of years old? I wonder is it so?'

Several months later Pearce[6] added further to these amazing stories of woods rapidly petrified in the ground of 'outback' Queensland:

'. . . Piggott writes of petrified wood showing axe marks and also of a petrified fence post.

'This sort of thing is, of course, quite common. The Hughenden district, N. Q. [North Queensland], has . . . Parkensonia trees washed over near a station [ranch] homestead and covered with silt by a flood in 1918 [which] had the silt washed off by a flood in 1950. Portions of the trunk had turned to stone of an attractive colour. However, much of the trunks and all the limbs had totally disappeared.

'On Zara Station [Ranch], 30 miles [about 48 kilometres] from Hughenden, I was renewing a fence. Where it was dipped into a hollow the bottom of the old posts had gone through black soil into shale. The Gidgee wood was still perfect in the black soil. It then cut off as straight as if sawn, and the few inches of post in the shale was pure stone. Every axe mark was perfect and the colour still the same as the day the post was cut . . . .

'I understand that down in the sandhill country below Boulia [south-western Queensland], where fences are often completely covered by shifting sand, it's a common thing for the sand to shift off after a number of years, leaving stone posts standing erect.'

From the other side of the world comes a report of the chapel of Santa Maria of Health (Santa Maria de Salute), built in 1630 in Venice, Italy, to celebrate the end of The Plague. Because Venice is built on watersaturated clay and sand, the chapel was constructed on 180,000 wooden pilings to reinforce the foundations. Even though the chapel is a massive stone block structure, it has remained firm since its construction. How have the wooden pilings lasted over 360 years? They have petrified! The chapel now rests on 'stone' pilings![7]

Experimental Verification

Of course, none of these reports should come as a surprise, since the processes of petrification of wood have been known for years, plus the fact that the process can occur, and has occurred, rapidly. For example Scurfield and Segnit [8] had reported that the petrification of wood can be considered to take place in five stages:

1. Entry of silica in solution or as a colloid into the wood.
2. Penetration of silica into the cell walls of the wood's structure.
3. Progressive dissolving of the cell walls which are at the same time replaced by silica so that the wood's dimensional stability is maintained.
4. Silica deposition within the voids within the cellular wall framework structure.
5. Final hardening (lithification) by Drying out.

Furthermore Oehler [9] had previously shown that the silica minerals quartz and chalcedony critically important in the petrification of wood, can be made, rapidly in the laboratory from silica gel. At 300°C (572°F) and 3 kilobars (about 3,000 atmospheres) pressure only 25 hours was required to crystallize quartz, whereas at only 165°C (329°F) and 3 kilobars pressure the same degree of crystallization occurred in 170 hours (about seven days).

Similarly, Drum [10] had partially silicified small branches by placing them in concentrated solutions of sodium metasilicate for up to 24 hours, while Leo and Barghoorn [11] had immersed fresh wood alternately in water and saturated ethyl silicate solutions until the open spaces in the wood were filled with mineral material, all within several months to a year. Likewise, as early as 1950 Merrill and Spencer [12] had shown that the sorption of silica by wood fibres from solutions of sodium metasilicate, sodium silicate and activated silica sols (a homogeneous suspension in water) at only 25°C (77°F) was as much as 12.5 moles of silica per gram within 24 hours--the equivalent of partial silicification/petrification. As Sigleo concluded,

'These observations indicate that silica nucleation and deposition can occur directly and rapidly on exposed cellulose [wood] surfaces. [13]


The evidence, both from scientists' laboratories and God's natural laboratory, shows that under the right chemical conditions wood can be rapidly petrified by silicification, even at normal temperatures and pressures. The process of petrification of wood is now so well known and understood that scientists can rapidly make petrified wood in their laboratories at will.

Unfortunately, most people still think, and are led to believe, that fossilized wood buried in rock strata must have taken thousands, if not millions, of years to petrify. Clearly, such thinking is erroneous, since it has been repeatedly demonstrated that petrification of wood can, and does, occur rapidly. Thus the timeframe for the formation of the petrified wood within the geological record is totally compatible with the biblical time-scale of a recent creation and a subsequent devastating global Flood.


1. Phil McCafferty, 'Instant petrified wood?', Popular Science, October 1992, pp. 56-57.

2 Hamilton Hicks, 'Mineralized sodium silicate solutions for artificial petrification of wood', United States Patent Number 4,612,050, September 16,1986, pp. 1-3. As cited by: Steven Austin, CatastroRef--'Catastrophe Reference Database: Catastrophes in Earth History, Geologic Evidence, Speculation and Theory', Institute for Creation Research, San Diego. Entry no. 267.

3. Hicks, Ref 2.

4. A.C. Sigleo, 'Organic geochemistry of silicified wood, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona', Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Vol. 42, 1978, pp. 1397-1405.

5. Roy Piggott, The Australian Lapidary Magazine, January 1970, p. 9.

6. R.C. Pearce, 'Petnfied wood', The Australian Lapidary Magazine, June 1970, p. 33.

7. Segment on 'Burke's Backyard', Channel 9 TV, Sydney, June 1995.

8. G. Scurfield and E.R. Segnit, 'Petnfication of wood by silica minerals', Sedimentary Geology, Vol. 39, 1984, pp. 149- 167.

9. John H. Oehler, 'Hydrothermal crystallization of silica gel', Geological Society of America Bulletin, Vol. 87, August 1976, pp. 1143-1152.

10. R.W Drum, 'Silicification of Betula woody tissue in vitro', Science, Vol. 161, 1968, pp 175-176.

11. R.E Leo, and E.S. Barghoorn, 'Silicification of wood', Harvard University Botanical Museum Leaflets, No. 25, 1976, pp. 1-47.

12. R.C. Mernll and R.W. Spencer, 'Sorption of sodium silicates and silicate sols by cellulose fibers', Industrial Engineering Chemistry, Vol. 42, 1950, pp. 744-747.

13. Sigleo, Ref 4, p. 1404.

Trees to Stone


Imagine a large basin area with numerous rivers and streams flowing through lowland. A lush landscape with coniferous trees up to nine feet in diameter and towering almost two hundred feet tall surrounds you. Ferns, cycads and giant horsetails grow abundantly along the waterway, providing food and shelter for many insects, reptiles, amphibians, and other creatures.

During the Triassic Period (200 - 250 million years ago) the Colorado Plateau area of northeastern Arizona was located near the equator and on the southwestern edge of the landmass known as "Pangea". (Eventually this super-continent separated to create our present continents.) This tropical location resulted in a climate and environment very different from today. Fossil evidence of this ancient land lies in the sediments called the Chinle Formation that is now exposed in Petrified Forest National Park.

Araucarioxylon Arizonicum


Over time, trees died or perhaps were knocked over by floodwaters or wind. Rivers carried the trees into the lowlands, breaking off branches, bark, and small roots along the way. Some trees were deposited on the flood plain adjacent to the rivers and others were buried in the stream channels. Most of the trees decomposed and disappeared. But a few trees were petrified, becoming the beautiful fossilized logs we see today. Most of the fossilized logs are from a tree called Araucarioxylon arizonicum. Two others, Woodworthia and Schilderia, occur in small quantities in the northern part of the park. All 3 species are now extinct.




Some logs were buried by sediment before they could decompose while volcanoes to the west spewed tons of ash into the atmosphere. Winds carried ash into the area where it was incorporated into the deepening layers of sediment. Ground water dissolved silica from the volcanic ash and carried it through the logs. This solution filled, or replaced cell walls, crystallizing as the mineral quartz. The process was often so exact that replacement left a fossil that shows every detail of the logs’ original surfaces and, occasionally, the internal cell structures. Iron rich minerals combined with quartz during the petrification process, creating the brilliant rainbow of colors.

Uplift and Erosion:


Over time, this area has endured many changes. About 60 million years ago, after the Chinle Formation was deeply buried by younger strata, the region was uplifted as part of the massive Colorado Plateau. As time passed, many rivers and storms eroded the land, removing the layers of rock until, again, the Chinle Formation was exposed. Now fossilized logs lie strewn across the clay hills and are exposed in cliff faces. Most logs are broken into segments. Humans did not cut the logs. Because the sections are still in order, we know that the logs fractured after they were buried and the petrification process was complete. Since petrified logs are composed of quartz, they are hard and brittle and break easily when subjected to stress. Earthquakes or the gradual lifting of the Colorado Plateau may have produced such stress.

Petrified wood is found in every state and in many countries, so why was this place made a national park? It was originally established to protect some of the largest and most beautifully preserved concentrations of petrified wood in the world. We now know, however, that few places in the world have a fossil record of the Triassic Period that is so diverse and complete. These things make your park special.

Next here is a website that can be accessed by having the students go to this site to perform some lesson or information search based on what is appropriate for your class room.




How Fossils are Formed

Excerpt from Introduction to Fossil Collecting
(C) 1994-2000, Glen Kuban, E-mail:
Part of Kuban's K-Paleo Place home page

When an animal or plant dies, it usually is soon eaten by scavengers or decomposed by bacteria. However, in some cases a flood, mudslide, sandstorm, or other event quickly buries a creature, or it may become entombed in ice, tar, or tree resin. When such an event happens, an organism is largely protected from decay, and may remain buried for millions of years. Through geologic time, and interactions with mineral seepage, pressure, and other factors, the organism or material around it may change in various ways. The changes may involve distortions, infillings, color changes, and the partial or complete conversion to rock (discussed below). Eventually, the specimen may be exposed again (this time as a fossil) through erosion or other factors, including human excavators.

In general, the hard parts of an organism such as teeth, bones, shells, and wood, are more likely to be preserved than soft parts, since hard parts are more resistant to scavenging and decay. Fortunately, well-preserved specimens including soft parts are sometimes found, and missing parts often can be deduced with fair confidence by studying the structures of the existing parts, and by comparisons with similar species living today.

The process by which dead organisms or their parts are transformed into fossils is called fossilization. The study of the factors and conditions that affect the fossilization process is called taphonomy. One of the most common changes fossils undergo through time is the partial or complete conversion to rock. This process (which can happen in various ways), is called petrifaction or petrification. You have probably heard the term "petrified," meaning "turned to stone." Certain types of petrification are given special names. If only the open spaces or soft parts of an organism are filled with minerals (such as silica or calcite), leaving the solid parts intact, the process is called permineralization. If an organism's bones, shell, or other hard parts are dissolved and replaced with other minerals, the process is called replace- ment. Sometimes the original shell or skeleton will remain, but undergo a change in crystal structure called recrystallization. If the entire organism dissolves away, leaving a hollow cavity, the cavity is referred to as a natural mold. If a natural mold is filled with minerals, the infilling is called a natural cast, or if you like fancy words, a pseudomorph. Often molds and casts occur together. Sometimes the area inside the shell of a mollusk (such as a clam) will fill with sediment, after which the shell dissolves away. This internal mold is sometimes called a steinkern, which is German for "stone kernel."

In some cases an organism's remains may be preserved through freezing (also called refrigeration), or through drying (desiccation), as sometimes happens with droppings of cave animals. Some fossil plants and insects are compressed into thin carbon films, sometimes called carbonizations, or distillations. Other fossils comprise only the outward impression of an organism or its parts, such as an impression of tree bark. If the impression or trace that records the living movements or functions of an ancient organism (as in the case of animal burrows, trails and trackways), the fossil is called a trace fossil or ichnite. Trace fossils (as distinguished from "body fossils") also include eggs, tooth marks, stomach contents, and coprolites (fossil excrement), and any other product or trace made while an ancient organism was still alive.


Another common mode of preservation of plants is petrifaction, which is the crystallization of minerals inside cells. One of the best-known forms of petrifaction is silicification, a process in which silica-rich fluids enter the plant's cells and crystallize, making the cells appear to have turned to stone (petrified). Famous examples of silicification may be found in the petrified forests of the western United States (see Petrified Forest National Park). Petrifaction may also occur in animals when minerals such as calcite, silica, or iron fill the pores and cavities of fossil shells or bones.


Many animal shells are composed of the mineral aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate that breaks down over millions of years to form the more stable mineral calcite. This method of preservation, called recrystallization, destroys the microscopic details of the shell but does not change the overall shape. Snail shells and bivalve shells from the Jurassic Period (205 million to 138 million years before present) and later are still composed principally of aragonite. Most older shells that have been preserved have recrystallized to calcite.


How are Fossils Created?


It's an exciting feeling to see a fossil in a museum. But how are these fossils formed? What are the different ways that a fossil can be saved for us to see? Well, to answer this, there are four major ways in which a fossil can be preserved. They are: petrification, molds, impressions, amber and sedimentary fossils. Below, find a description of each:


Petrification occurs when a living object is slowly turned to stone of a huge number of years. Petrification is sometimes called "permineralization" because it is brought about mainly by minerals. Minerals seep through the organic matter is an object, filling it completely. Then the organic matter rots away, but a mineral version of the fossil is left. This process usually works best in the fossilization of trees. Some of the most famous petrified trees are in California, and contain huge rings that describe ancient eras.


Molds are literally molds of an animal. Sometimes animals became trapped in mud, dirt or clay. Then their bodies deteriorated, leaving behind their shape and size in the ground. When the hole created by this is discovered, it is known as a mold. A mold can be created in two ways. An organism can deteriorate and leave a hole showing details of its body. Or a hollow object, such as a shell, can become filled with matter. When the object deteriorates, the matter filling it is left behind as a mold.


Have you ever seen a dinosaur's footprint? These are formed when mud, clay or silt containing an imprint made by an animal turns to stone. This is an example of an impression, or the impression that an animal leaves in soft matter. These fossils are useful in determining weight and structure of ancient animals. Sometimes, even toenails and pores can be seen!


Some fossils are preserved in amber. Amber is a sap-like substance from trees. It is sap that has dried over hundreds of years. Because tree sap is so sticky, it is possible for bugs and even small animals to be trapped within it. In time, the sap hardens to amber and a perfect specimen of the creature is preserved. Amber fossils are plentiful, and are sometimes worn as necklaces and bracelets today!

Sedimentary Fossils

The sea bed contains perhaps the most fossils on the earth. This is because the soft ground under the sea is made of sedimentary rock, or rock that is composed of layers of land. When sea creatures die, they drift to the bottom of the ocean and are covered with a layer of sand. In time, a volcano or mudslide, etc.,may cover the surface under which they are buried. In this way, a new layer is added, and the fossil is preserved in layers of time. Therefore, fossils made in this way are sometimes referred to as "sedimentary fossils." While there are many of these fossils, they are often very hard to get to. Often, they are dug from ground that was once underwater. In fact, fossils in sedimentary layers are useful in indicating when land was above and below ground.


Restated and activity follows




Amber Fossils



Fossils are the remains or traces of prehistoric plants and animals. Most fossils are buried and preserved in sedimentary rock, but some are trapped in organic matter. Fossils range in age from 3.5-billion-year-old traces of microscopic cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) to 10,000-year-old remains of animals preserved during the last ice age.

Paleontologist, Ben Witt, University of WashingtonFossils are most commonly found in limestone, sandstone, and shale (sedimentary rock). Remains of organisms can also be found trapped in natural asphalt, amber, and ice. The hard, indigestible skeletons and shells of animals and the woody material of plants are usually preserved best. Fossils of organisms made of soft tissue that decays readily are more rare. Paleontologists (scientists who study prehistoric life) use fossils to learn how life has changed and evolved throughout earths history.

Many factors can influence how fossils are preserved. Remains of an organism may be replaced by minerals, dissolved by an acidic solution to leave only their impression, or simply reduced to a more stable form. The fossilization of an organism depends on the chemistry of the environment and on the biochemical makeup of the organism. The following are some common methods by which fossils are formed.


Plants are most commonly fossilized through carbonization. In this process, the mobile oils in the plants organic matter are leached out and the remaining matter is reduced to a carbon film. Plants have an inner structure of rigid organic walls that may be preserved in this manner, revealing the framework of the original cells. Animal soft tissue has a less rigid cellular structure and is rarely preserved through carbonization.


Petrified Tree from Petrified Forest National ParkAnother common mode of preservation of plants is petrifaction, which is the crystallization of minerals inside cells. One of the best-known forms of petrifaction is silicification, a process in which silica-rich fluids enter the plants cells and crystallize, making the cells appear to have turned to stone (petrified). Famous examples of silicification may be found in the petrified forests of the Western United States. Petrifaction may also occur in animals when minerals such as calcite, silica, or iron fill the pores and cavities of fossil shells or bones.


Replacement occurs when an organism is buried in mud and its remains are replaced by sulfide (pyrite) or phosphate (apatite) minerals. This process may replace soft tissue, preserving rarely seen details of the organism's anatomy. X-ray scanning of some German shells from the Devonian Period (410 million to 360 million years ago) have revealed limbs and antennae of trilobites and tentacle arms of cephalopods that have been pyritised (replaced by pyrite). Although mineral replacement is rare, fossils created in this way are important in helping paleontologists compare the anatomical details of prehistoric organisms with those of living organisms.


Many animal shells are composed of the mineral aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate that breaks down over millions of years to form the more stable mineral calcite. This method of preservation, called recrystallization, destroys the microscopic details of the shell but does not change the overall shape. Snail shells and bivalve shells from the Jurassic Period (205 million to 138 million years ago) and later are still composed principally of aragonite. Most older shells that have been preserved have recrystallized to calcite.

Organic Traps

Whole organisms may become trapped and preserved in amber, natural asphalt, or peat. Amber is the fossilized remaining part of tree resin. When resin first flows from the tree, it is very thick and sticky, so as it runs down the trunk, it may trap insects, spiders, and occasionally larger animals such as lizards. These organisms can be preserved for millions of years with details of their soft tissue, such as muscles and hair-like bristles, still intact.

Prehistoric termites trapped in amber. From the cover of Scientific America, April 1996

Lizard in Amber

Frog in Amber


Other products from ancient life:


Petroleum is formed under the earth's surface by the decomposition of marine organisms. The remains of tiny organisms that live in the sea.and, to a lesser extent, those of land organisms that are carried down to the sea in rivers and of plants that grow on the ocean bottoms.are enmeshed with the fine sands and silts that settle to the bottom in quiet sea basins. Such deposits, which are rich in organic materials, become the source rocks for the generation of crude oil. The process began many millions of years ago with the development of abundant life, and it continues to this day. The sediments grow thicker and sink into the sea floor under their own weight. As additional deposits pile up, the pressure on the ones below increases several thousand times, and the temperature rises by several hundred degrees. The mud and sand harden into shale and sandstone; carbonate precipitates and skeletal shells harden into limestone; and the remains of the dead organisms are transformed into crude oil and natural gas.


Coal is a solid fuel of plant origin. In remote geological times, and particularly in the Carboniferous period, between 345 and 280 million years ago, much of the world was covered with luxuriant vegetation growing in swamps. Many of these plants were types of ferns, some as large as trees. This vegetation died and became submerged under water, where it gradually decomposed. As decomposition took place, the vegetable matter lost oxygen and hydrogen atoms, leaving a deposit with a high percentage of carbon. In this way peat bogs were formed. As time passed, layers of sand and mud settled from the water over some of the peat deposits. The pressure of these overlying layers, as well as movements of the earth's crust, compress and harden the deposits, thus producing coal.

Various types of coal are classified according to fixed carbon content. Peat, the first stage in the formation of coal, has a low fixed carbon content and a high moisture content. The carbon content is greater in lignite, the lowest rank of coal. Bituminous coal has even more carbon and a correspondingly higher heating value. Anthracite coal has the highest carbon content and heating value. Coal may be transformed by further pressure and heat into graphite that is almost pure carbon. Other components of coal are volatile hydrocarbons, sulfur and nitrogen, and the minerals that remain as ash when the coal is burned.

How can this be used in the classroom?

People, especially young ones, tend to have a natural interest and curiosity about fossils. You should not have a hard time gaining interest in this activity. One key point to emphasize is that there are many ways in which fossils can be formed. Amber is one of the most interesting and spectacular ways of preserving organisms. Many of your students will likely have seen the movie Jurassic Park. You may want to remind your students that the dinosaurs in this story were cloned using DNA samples found in insects that had been fossilized in amber. Though this story is science fiction, it is conceivable that such technology could exist in the not too distant future.

Perhaps the best advise for this activity is to simply enjoy it and use it to spark your students curiosity. With that done, you will likely have a hard time preventing them from learning more about it on their own. In addition to the links provided here, there are numerous other resources on fossils and amber available online and in public libraries.

In Class Activity
Making a simulated Amber fossil.

Materials needed:

  • Karo syrup
  • Sugar
  • pan
  • muffin tin
  • Pam
  • bugs
  • molasses
  • measuring cup.


  1. Combine 1 part Karo, 2 parts sugar, 1 part water, and 5 drops molasses in a sauce pan.
  2. Heat on high till it reaches the "cracking point" (i.e. place a drop of the heated mixture in a glass of cold water. If it instantly turns to a nice solid ball, you have reached the cracking point. This usually takes about 10 minutes of boiling time).
  3. Spray muffin tin with Pam or some other non-stick substance (i.e. butter, Crisco, etc.). Place bugs in muffin tin and pour in "amber" mixture. Let cool until mixture becomes solid (at least 20 minutes).
  4. Carefully flip the muffin tin onto a towel or cloth to avoid breaking the amber fossils.
  5. These amber fossils are edible, but we do not recommend eating the bugsJ.

Note: The dryer the bug, the better. Bees and wasps work well, grasshoppers, especially large ones, do not work as well, but feel free to experiment.

Links for additional study






Amber Fossils


Amber Class
Activity Demo.


Materials needed: 

  • Karo syrup 
  • Sugar 
  • pan 
  • muffin tin 
  • Pam or nonstick spray
  • bugs or other interesting object 
  • molasses
  • measuring cup


Spray muffin tin with Pam or some other non-stick substance (i.e. butter, Crisco, etc.).

Place bugs in muffin tin

Place bug in pan

  • Combine 1 part Karo, 2 parts sugar, 1 part water, and 5 drops molasses in a sauce pan.
  • Heat on high till it reaches the "cracking point"

mix ingrediants

Hard Ball

Place a drop of the heated mixture in a glass of cold water. If it instantly turns to a nice solid ball, you have reached the cracking point. This usually takes about 10 minutes of boiling time

Pour in "amber" mixture. Let cool until mixture becomes solid (at least 20 minutes).

Filling Pan

Dumping out amber

Carefully flip the muffin tin onto a towel or cloth to avoid breaking the amber fossils.

These amber fossils are edible, but we do not recommend eating the bugs.







Window to the past


What is permineralization?

One of the common types of fossils is permineralization. This occurs when the pores of the plant materials, bones, and shells are impregnated by mineral matter from the ground, lakes, or ocean. In some cases, the wood fibers and cellulose dissolve and some minerals replace them. Sometimes the mineral substance of the fossils will completely dissolve and some other minerals replace them. The common minerals that form this kind of fossils are calcite, iron, and silica.

Since the pores of the organic tissues are filled with minerals or the organic matter is replaced with minerals, the fossils are formed in the original shape of the tissue or organism, but the composition of the fossils will be different and they will be heavier.

Petrification (petros means stone) occurs when the organic matter is completely replaced by minerals and the fossil is turned to stone. This generally occurs by filling the pores of the tissue, and inter and intra cellular spaces with minerals, then dissolving the organic matter and replacing it with minerals. This method reproduces the original tissue in every detail. This kind of fossilization occurs in both hard and soft tissues. An example of this kind of fossilization is petrified wood.

The Process of Permineralization

The ground water generally do not contain pure water molecules alone. It is hard to some degree meaning it contains some minerals. The degree of hardness varies. The different warrbascharcoalminerals are found in the ground, and water dissolves them until saturation at which point water will not hold any additional mineral matter. This process is enhanced by the acidification of the water. For example, the rain water when pure in the beginning picks up carbon dioxide from air and becomes a weak carbonic acid. The organic matter in the ground, and other decaying materials also will make ground water more acidic. This acidic water dissolves more minerals.

Organic tissues like wood, bone, and shell contain pores and spaces. The mineralized water fills the pores of the organic tissues and moves through the cellular spaces. During this process the saturated water evaporates, and the excess minerals are deposited on the cells and tissues. This process creates many layers of mineral deposits creating hard fossilized record.

What can we tell from permineralization ?

Since permineralizations of organisms are three-dimensional fossils with organic matter replaced by minerals, what they mainly tell us are the about the internal structures of the organisms. The mineralization process itself helps to prevent tissue compaction, which could distort sequoioxylonthe actual size proportions of the various organs. Permineralizations are also not "limited" to hard body parts (such as bones or shells), but can also be found preserving soft body parts. This could be very important to researchers who wish to look at what life was like in the past in relation to what it is now in the present. An example are the fragile reproductive structures of many plants. Depending on the conditions for the fossilization process and the specific mineral that was used for the fossilization, however, varying degrees of detail do exist. Sometimes, only very differentiated cell types can be distinguished (such as between vascular tissue for conducting water and nutrients and ground tissue in plants), while in other fossils, the detail can be so fine as to distinguish between the different organelles within the various cells.

There are three subgroups of permineralizations: silicification, pyritization, and carbonate mineralizations.

As with almost all fossilization processes, the specific type of permineralization, silicification (because of its conditions for fossilization), tells us a much about what type of environment the organism most likely lived in. This is because specific fossil types occur in environments with certain features. Silicification is a fossilization process whereby the organism is penetrated by minerals that form on the cells and cell structures. In this case, the mineral is silica, and because the mineral "follows" the internal structures of the organism during mineralization, this accounts for the amazing amount of detail found in permineralizations. For example, (for silicification) fluids in volcanic terrain often contain silica that could be absorbed by the plants themselves. This would indicate that a volcano was near the plant in the past. An interesting point that this example presents is that the plant was already beginning its fossilization process when it was still living. The silica that is taken up by the plants become embedded within them and when they die, the material (silica) is already present within them to quickly mineralize the organism and fossilize it. The silicification process can often show very fine detail in this way.

Pyritization involves the mineral sulfur. Many of the plants are thus pyritized when they are in marine sediments since they often contain a large amount of sulfur. This could have been their natural habitat in the past or they could have been near enough to a marine environment to end up there to be pyritized (after being carried down by a river, flood, or some other method). Some plants are also pyritized when they are in a clay terrain, but to a lesser extent than in a marine environment.

Carbonate mineralizations occur both in marine and nonmarine environments. The most popular forms of carbonate mineralizations that are cited in biology are what are called "coal balls." Coal balls (which are often found in a round ball shape, which gives them their name) are often a fossilization of many different plants and their tissues. Often, they occur in the presence of seawater or acidic peat. Acetate peels can also usually be made to study the various organic material trapped within a coal ball. These peels may sometimes be fairly revealing of cellular detail.

coal ball












imagine standing in a lush semi-tropical forest with a 200 foot canopy of coinfers and tropical flora. Slow moving streams and swamps populated with fish, clams fallen logs and reptiles moved like blue ribbons that drained into an inland sea. A range of volcanic mountains called the Mogollon Highland filled the southern skyline, the source of the steams and rivers.

It is a scene that is hard to imagine 225 million years later when the land we see today is an arid desert scattered with wood that has since turned to stone. Petrified Wood is real wood that has turned into rock composed of quartz crystals.

One of the greatest concentrations of petrified wood in the world is found in the Petrified Forest National Park in north-east Arizona. Logs as long as 200 feet and 10 feet diameter have been found in the park.

What turned the wood to stone?

Petrified wood has been preserved for millions of years by the process of petrifaction . This process turns the wood into quartz crystal which is very brittle and shatters. Even though petrified wood is fragile, it is also harder than steel.

Petrified wood is known for it's exquisite color and detail. Some pieces of petrified wood have retained the original cellular structure of the wood and the grain can easily be seen.
Petrified wood can be found throughout the desert regions. It is easy to find and identify. It is used often in jewelry making and for other types of decorative artwork.

What is petrifaction?

The process of petrifaction begins with three raw ingredients: wood, water and mud. Petrifaction of the wood found in the Petrified Forest began during the Triassic Period when the primitive coinfers fell to the ground and into the waterways on a journey through time. The logs were swept and tumbled downstream with sediment and other debris. The streams traveled through a plain of lakes and swamps were wood, sediment and debris were deposited along the way.

In fact, 400 feet of sediments were deposited in the plain by the rivers that originated from the volcanic mountain range. The layer of sediments is known today as the Chinle Formation. As the logs were deposited in the plain they were buried with mud, water and debris. This is when the petrifaction process began.

The mud that covered the logs contained volcanic ash which was a key ingredient in the petrifaction process. When the volcanic ash began to decompose it released chemicals into the water and mud. As the water seeped into the wood the chemicals from the volcanic ash reacted to the wood and formed into quartz crystals. As the crystals grew over time, the wood became encased in the crystals which over millions of years, turned the wood into stone.


How did the tropical forest become a desert?

The petrified logs were buried in the sediment for millions of years, protected from the elements of decay. During this time the plain was covered by an ocean and another layer of sediments on top of the wood-rich Chinle Formation.

It wasn't until 60 million years ago that the ocean moved away and the erosion process began. More than 2600 feet of sediment have eroded to expose the top 100 feet of the Chinle Formation.

What makes petrified wood colorful?

It is not wood that makes petrified wood colorful, but the chemistry of the petrifying groundwater. Minerals such as manganese, iron, and copper were in the water/mud during the petrifaction process. These minerals give petrified wood a variety color ranges. Quartz crystals are colorless, but when iron is added to the process the crystals become stained with a yellow or red tint.

Article with other overtones


August 1993


By Rick Balogh, MS

Have you ever observed the process of petrifaction (replacement of the normal cells of organic matter with other minerals)? According to evolutionary doctrine, petrifaction requires much time, usually millions of years, but how much time is really needed in this process? Have you or anyone else ever observed the formation of petrified wood? Evolutionists say that the petrifaction of wood takes a very long time, but like the rapid formation of stalactites and stalagmites under the Lincoln Memorial, chemical and physical conditions determine how long it will take to fossilize something. Time plays only a small part in the equation. Consider this excerpt from Scientific American of March 23, 1889, page 181:

"There is a well known petrifying stream of water at Knaresborough, Yorkshire, England, three miles from Harrowgate, the well known sanitarium. It is a cascade from the River Nidd, about 15 feet high and twice as broad, and forms an aqueous curtain to a cave know as Mother Shipton’s Cave. The dripping waters are used for the purposes of petrifying anything sent to be hung up in the drip of the water ledge, which flows over, as it were, the eaves of the cave. This ledge of limestone rock is augmented unceasingly by the action of the waters which flow over it. This cascade has an endless variety of objects hung up by short lengths of wire to be petrified by the water trickling over them, as sponges, books, gloves, kerchiefs and veils, hunter’s cap, fox, cat, dog, bird, boots, etc., just as fancy prompts people to seek petrifying results. A sponge is petrified in a few months, a book or cap in a year or two, cat or bird a little longer....One cat shown in the museum had the head broken off at the neck showing the whole was limestone throughout, with not a trace of organic structure of the original cat."

Recorded in Scientific American of March 17, 1855, page 211:

"On the 20th of August, 1847, Mrs. Phelps, wife of our informant, Abner P. Phelps, died, and was buried at Oak Grove, in Dodge Co. On the 11th of April inst., she was taken up to be removed to Strong’s Landing. The coffin was found to be very heavy, and the body to retain its features and proportions. After its removal to Strong’s Landing, a distance of some 45 miles, the body was examined, and found to be wholly petrified, converted to a substance resembling a light colored stone. Upon trial, edge tools made no more impression upon it than upon marble. In striking upon the body with metal, a hollow singing sound was produced....The ground in which she had been buried was a yellowish loam, and the body lay about three feet above the lime rock....A few years ago a lady died in the neighborhood of Felicity, in this County, and was buried in the orchard on the farm. About four years, after she was disinterred, for the purpose of removal to a public graveyard, she was found to be completely petrified, being as solid as stone and fully as heavy. Every feature was distinct and perfect."

Not only are there examples of rapid petrifaction, but there are also examples of fossils that were preserved remarkably well and not petrified. Consider this statement from Jame E. Francis’ article "Arctic Eden," Natural History, January 1991, p.57 and 60:

"The remains of lush forests near the North Pole give a glimpse of the Arctic’s subtropical past....Despite the passage of 45 million years, the wood retains its original color and is still flexible and burns easily. I quickly discovered that my geologic hammer was useless for collecting samples of the fossil wood; the next season I came better prepared with wood saws."

How do you think a magnolia leaf would change as the result of having been buried for 17-20 million years? Consider this remark from Nature, V.344, April 12, 1990, p. 587:

"When rocks containing these fossils are cleaved open, the freshly exposed leaf tissues are often bright green or ‘deep autumnal’ in colour, though they rapidly curl away from the substrate as they oxidize and dry out."

The author say that it was even possible to isolate the DNA of the leaves:

"But even the most optimistic estimate of the longevity of this molecule would not have predicted that fragments of substantial length would survive after tens of millions of years at the bottom of an ancient lake." (p. 587)

THINK! Does petrifaction require lots of time or just the right conditions? The same could be asked of many processes to which evolutionists have assigned long ages: mountain building, the bending and buckling of geologic layers, the deposition of sediments many kilometers thick, and deep canyon formation.


Long before the discovery of radioactivity and radiometric dating of rocks, the hundreds of millions of years of time needed for the deposition of the geologic column was reasoned as shown below, which is taken from James Dana’s book Manual of Geology, 1880, page 591:

"The rate at which coral reefs increase in height affords another mode of measuring the past. From calculations elsewhere stated by the author, it appears that the rate of increase of a coral reef probably is not over a sixteenth of an inch a year. Now, some reefs are at least 2,000 feet thick, which, at one sixteenth of an inch a year, corresponds to 384,000, or very nearly a thousand years for five feet of upward increase....The use of these numbers is simply to prove the proposition that Time is long, - very long, - even when the earth was hastening on toward its last age."

This reasoning is based on the principle of uniformitarianism which can be summarized as "the present is the key to the past." That is, the rate of sediment accumulation measured today can be used to determine how much time was needed for the geologic column to be deposited assuming the same rate was acting then as today. This is a big assumption which cannot be tested. Was anyone there to verify the sedimentation rate then? God was, but He asks Job:

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me if you have understanding." (Job 28:4)

This question of "Were you there?" may seem trite but it serves to remind us that unless someone was there to accurately record just what happened, we simply have conjecture. Is a guess always correct, sometimes correct, or never correct? Only God was there to observe the deposition of all rock layers, everyone else is simply guessing.

Let’s imagine that you are standing at the base of a cliff where rock layers are clearly visible. Can any conclusion regarding time be deduced from what you see?

THINK! There is obviously an order to the deposition of layers. The one on the bottom must have been deposited before the one immediately above and, so on, to the top layer. This is obvious, common sense reasoning that does not require verification by someone who saw the layers form. Of course, there is the possibility that God created them instantly that way, but if we confine our possibilities to the natural, excluding the supernatural, we can accept this as fact.

Evolutionists go through similar reasoning based on the fossils. They see similarities in anatomical structures and the seeming order in which fossils are found in the geologic column and conclude that evolution occurred. How does their reasoning differ from that which we have used for deciding that the oldest layer is at the bottom of our imaginary pile and the youngest is at the top? The deposition of sedimentary layers has been observed many times (the geologic activities at Mount St. Helens provided us with a remarkable natural field model of significant volcanic and aqueous depositions, as well as deep canyon formation), we can repeat the process at will, and we can even predict certain characteristics that will form during the deposition. The French creationary geologist, Guy Berthault has conducted such experiments and next month we will look at his work in this area. The evolutionary process, however, has never been observed, it cannot be repeated at will, and we cannot predict which characteristics would evolve. Furthermore, it is important to realize that the order of rock layers says nothing about the length of time for deposition.

THINK! When a fish dies is it immediately buried and subsequently become fossilized as silt slowly covers it? Of course not! It is more likely to float than sink and to be eaten by scavengers. There is a great abundance of fossil fish, whole schools that were obviously buried rapidly in the midst of their daily activities, some caught in the act of swallowing other fish, indicating clearly that huge submarine mud flows or turbidity currents overtook them and instantly buried them. A beautiful fossil specimen of one fish swallowing another is seen on the cover of Creation Research Society Quarterly (CRSQ), vol. 26, June 1989 (available through the Creation Research Society P.O. Box 14016, Terre Haute, IN 47803).

THINK! Fossil trees have been discovered in several localities around the world whose trunks vertically span rock layers for dozens of feet, such as this photo shows (from CRSQ, vol. 14, p. 153, December 1977). Similar photos and drawings are seen in Why Not Creation, edited by Walter Lammerts (CRS), 1970, pp. 153-155 and in Neglected Geologic Anomalies by William Corliss, 1990, pp. 254-260.

What do you think—slow or rapid burial? Could the flood of Noah’s day have been responsible for depositing the geologic column? If so, the time period of its formation would be months, not hundreds of millions of years.

More info


Fossils are the remains or traces of an organism from prehistoric times (older than 4000 BC). Most organisms do not fossilize and those that do are usually destroyed by geological processes or they never surface for examination. Fossils are usually formed when an organism is covered by sediments that then harden into sandstone, slate, mudstone or flint. Organisms also fossilize when they are buried in volcanic ash or entombed in tar or tree sap.  Some of the most common fossils are either mold or petrifaction fossils. A mold fossil forms when the material surrounding the organism hardens followed by removal of the organic matter. This leaves behind an impression (or mold) of the organism. Petrifaction fossils are formed through two main processes: permineralization and replacement. Permineralized fossils are created when ground water percolates through the remains of the organism and leaves behind minerals in the cellular spaces. Petrified wood is an example of a permineralized fossil. Replacement fossils are formed when ground water first dissolves out the tissue and then leaves minerals in their place. Both types of petrifaction fossils are generally composed of either SiO2 or CaCO3.