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Open letter to science editors


Velikovsky on the Formation of Coal

Editor's Note: Wilfrid Francis, M.Sc., Ph.D., ER.LC., F.C.S., is a consulting chemist and fuel technologist and author of the standard book, Coal: Its Formation and Composition (London, Edward Arnold Ltd, 1961).  Now retired, Francis pursued scientific research and development regarding fuels and fuel technology for nearly 60 years.  He acted as a-director of several large research organizations, lectured in a number of London colleges, and authored several scientific and technical books well received by the scientific community.

The first edition of Coal appeared in 1954. In his preface to the second edition (1961), Francis explained that the views of several authors, Velikovsky included, forced him to revise his book.  We print here several excerpts, followed by brief comments Francis prepared for Pensée.  The selections from Coal are reprinted here with the permission of Edward Arnold, Ltd.

Coal;  Its Formation and Composition, Preface to the Second Edition.

In deference to the views of the late Mr. John Roberts on thermal metamorphism, the whole question of the metamorphism of coal has been reconsidered in the light of the evidence available in the technical literature.  The review of this literature has been made retrospective and extensive in an endeavour to ascertain how far modern work takes into consideration past experience and, particularly, to ascertain whether the modern trend follows a set pattern based upon the orthodox teaching of geology, biology and chemistry, which sometimes ignores evidence that cannot easily be reconciled with theory, or whether the modern outlook is sufficiently flexible to amend classical doctrines when these are not in accord with facts.  The result of this search has been to confirm the views expressed by some scientists that alternative hypotheses can explain many of the phenomena associated with the formation and composition of coal as satisfactorily as orthodox theory, whilst some phenomena, which have never been explained adequately by orthodoxy are better explained by alternative hypotheses of a somewhat revolutionary character.

Phenomena that are difficult to explain on orthodox grounds include the absence of annual rings in the wood forming the Carboniferous coals of the Northern Hemisphere, the presence of coal deposits in Antarctica and high latitudes of the North, the mixed tropical and temperate flora and fauna preserved in many young coals, the formation of amber, the formation of fusain, and the frequent occurrence of marine sediments and animal remains in coal formations of all ages.  The three books studied that are most opposed to orthodox views on the formation of coal are: "The Natural History of Indian Coals" by C.S. Fox, "Synthetische Artbildung" by H. Nilsson, and "Earth in Upheaval" by I. Velikovsky.

These books contain much well authenticated evidence that relates to the above problems of coal formation and a summary of this evidence, which cannot be ignored in a systematic study of the formation and composition of coal, has been included in the first chapter of the new edition.  In subsequent chapters an attempt has been made to trace the effects of factors arising from this evidence upon the composition and properties of coals.  In particular, the effects of deposition by megalochthonous processes and of cover by marine sediments have been considered in all sections of the book and a relationship has been established between the development of coking properties and marine influences operating during deposition, decomposition and/or metamorphism.

Coal: Its Formation and Composition, pp. 14-17.

Velikovsky, in a comprehensive review of the geological literature of the last 170 years, throws doubt upon the validity of the Lyell geological law of uniformity for the earth and the Darwinian law of evolution, through continuity, for plants and animals.

The theory of uniformity, or of gradual changes in the past measured by the extent and nature of changes observed in the present, implies the gradual crumbling of the earth's crust by wind, sun and rain, and its transport into the sea.  This is followed by the gradual elevation of land masses from the sea, the events taking place in cycles, each requiring geological periods for completion.  Although violations of the principle of continuity do occur, since the known formations of fossiliferous rocks form a broken and defective series, these were considered by Lyell to represent incomplete links in the chain of evidence.

Velikovsky takes the opposite view, and produces evidence to show that catastrophic events of world magnitude have happened frequently during the geological history of the world.  These have taken the form of extensive earthquakes; the simultaneous eruption of many volcanos; the sudden elevation of mountains from land masses or from the sea; huge tidal waves and tropical storms of magnitude unknown in recent times; the submersion of continents below the sea; the splitting of continents; and changes in the direction of the axis of the earth.  Events of this nature he believes to have been of sufficient magnitude to destroy life of all kinds periodically over most of the globe, thus terminating each geological period or era, with different or modified species of plants and animals arising after each catastrophe. [1]  Velikovsky quotes many authors in support of his beliefs and his facts can be checked by reference to the literature quoted, some of which is summarized here.

"The evidence strongly supports a process of carbonisation in forest fires, which were extensive, but were checked by flooding before destruction of the forests was complete.  This evidence accords well with the views on the formation of coal expressed by Velikovsky. . ."

We are concerned only with the possible bearing of such phenomena upon the mode of formation of coal, including the transport and deposition of plant debris in bulk by floods, and the effect of subsequent phenomena upon the metamorphism of coal.  It is therefore important to examine his views on this subject in some detail and to determine how far they are acceptable and relevant.

Velikovsky makes the following points on the subject of coal formation: —

1)  Many kinds of plants and trees found in coal do not grow in swamps and when they die on dry ground they decompose and disappear.

2)  Assuming that 10 feet of plant remains forms one foot of peat and that a 12-foot deposit of peat is required to make a layer of coal one foot thick, then a 50-foot seam represents the continuous growth of forests in one site equivalent to deposits of plant remains 6,000 feet thick.  In coal measures containing several thick seams, such accumulations must have been repeated many times in the same location.

3)  In some cases a coal seam undivided in one portion is split into two or more seams in other portions—with thick layers of limestone or other formations in between, indicating sudden deposition of sediment from the sea.

Velikovsky believes that these considerations suggest that rhythmic long-continued accumulations of "in situ" coal-forming deposits are unlikely and that the normal drift theory of transport by fresh water agencies is also untenable for the following reasons:

1)  Various kinds of marine life are sometimes mixed with coals.

2)  Strata containing deep-sea crinoids (sea-lilies) and clear water ocean corals often alternate with coal seams.

3)  "Erratic" boulders are often found in coal. (Erratic boulders are large rocks transported from far distant places.)

He suggests that a more likely mode of coal formation is as follows:

1)  During periodic catastrophes of world-wide dimensions, forests were burned and trees were uprooted and broken by hurricanes.

2)  Tidal waves swept the splintered trees into large heaps and covered them with marine sands, pebbles, shells and fish.

3)  Successive tides covered the initial layers with, in turn, more accumulations of plant debris and marine sediments.

4)  If the debris becomes impregnated with bitumen, the coal formed is a bituminous coal.

Evidence summarised by Velikovsky of periodic world-wide catastrophic occurrences, with the sudden destruction of living matter and its collection together in vast deposits by sea transport, includes the following:

Deposits of "muck" occur above gold-bearing gravel beds in Alaska, in the valleys of Rivers Tanana, Yukon, Koyukuk and Kuskokwim.  "Muck" is a frozen mass of animals and trees, the animals dismembered, the trees uprooted and splintered.  Enormous quantities (millions) of trees and animals are present, the animals including the mammoth, mastodon, superbison and horse.

Fossil tusks of mammoths from the Ivory Islands of the Arctic Coasts of Siberia have provided half the world's supplies of ivory since 1582.  In 1797 the body of a frozen mammoth was discovered in N. E. Siberia with flesh, skin, and hair complete (Digby).  Since then many others have been found in similar condition.  The ground must have frozen suddenly, entombing the bodies to account for this surprising state of preservation (Whitley).  The Liakhov Islands and the New Siberian Islands appear to be largely composed of enormous quantities of mammoth bones, cemented together by icy sand.  At Stolbovoi and the Belkov Islands, mammoth tusks are dredged in nets from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.  Charles Darwin, who denied the occurrence of continental catastrophes. admitted that the accumulation of fossil mammoths in Siberia was for him an insoluble problem (cf.  Whitley).

On the south coast of the New Siberian Islands are found hills 180 feet to 300 feet high consisting of the trunks of trees interlayered with horizontal strata of sandstone.  The surface of the wood is fossilised.  The soil is filled with the bones of elephants, rhinoceros and buffaloes.  The piles of ancient driftwood lie on declivities facing south.  Other declivities are filled to an equal height with skeletons of pachyderms and bisons, cemented together by frozen sand and by layers and veins of ice.  On the summit of the piles, the trunks of trees lie upon each other in wild disorder, with tops broken off, or crushed, as though thrown upon the banks with great violence.

According to Whitley, E. von Toll visited the New Siberian Islands frequently between 1885 and 1902, where he examined the wood piles and found them to consist of the carbonised trunks of trees, with inclusions of leaves and fruits.

Evidently a hurricane, or series of hurricanes, carried the trees and animals forward on vast ocean waves to deposit them with sand, forming hills or islands of sandstone inter-layered with thick deposits of animal remains and partly carbonised trees.  It is possible that the deposits of "muck" in Alaska, one thousand miles away, were formed in, the same way and by the same agencies.

Old Red Sandstone.  The above events relate to the most recent geological age—the Quaternary—but similar evidence of wholesale and sudden destruction of animals, including fish—is preserved in many earlier formations.  The Old Red Sandstone is one of the oldest formations containing evidence of animal life in the form of fish.  This formation, at certain horizons in the Northern half of Scotland, contains the remains of large quantities of fish, including twelve genera and many species.  The area over which these deposits occur is some 10,000 square miles, and the evidence suggests that destruction of these animals was sudden and complete.  It appears to have been caused by the sudden upthrust of the ocean bottom (cf.  Miller).  Other known vast collections of animal remains, in strata belonging to intermediate geological periods, include fossil fish in the limestone of Monte Bolca in Lombardy, in the coal formations of Saarbruecken, in the cupriferous slate in the Hartz Mountains, in the blue slate of Glaris, in the calcareous slate of Solenhofen, in the marlstones of Oensingen in Switzerland and Aix in Provence, m the black limestones of Ohio and Michigan, in the Green River bed of Arizona, in the diatom beds of Lompoc and in many other formations.

The animal and fish remains that are present in large numbers in some layers of the Geiseltal lignites will be discussed later [in my book] and also the destruction of the dinosaurs in Utah during the late Cretaceous or early Eocene.

Other vast collections of animal bones and vegetable debris occur in the Agate Spring Quarry, Nebraska; in the Cumberland Cavern, Maryland; in the Norfolk Forest beds; in the Siwalik Hills, north of Delhi; in Kentucky; in the San Pedro Valley, California; at Kesslerloch (Switzerland) and Newkoeln (Germany).  In some cases the fossils are embedded in volcanic ash.  In others the bones are quarried for the commercial exploitation of phosphates.  In some cases the remains are embedded in asphalt or bitumen, notably at La Brea, Los Angeles, and at Carpinteria and McKittrick, California.

All of this evidence, quoted by Velikovsky, points to periodic, extensive and sudden flooding, volcanic activity, the elevation of sedimentary rocks and the submersion of land over vast areas of the world, involving the destruction of life and the collecting together of fossilized deposits of animal and vegetable debris.

Diastrophic Occurrences.  Nilsson has provided some of the evidence contained in the book by Velikovsky and he gives more details on many points mentioned by Velikovsky ...

Coal: Its Formation and Composition, p. 46.

Frequently ... coal fields deposited in marine strata contain evidence of much volcanic activity.  There is occasional evidence of high sulphur concentrations and sometimes... the presence of petroleum oil deposits.  These facts are highly significant and lend support to the revolutionary theory of Joly and to the views of Fox, Nilsson and Velikovsky.

Coal Its Formation and Composition, p. 625.

The evidence strongly supports a process of carbonisation in forest fires, which were extensive, but were checked by flooding before destruction of the forests was complete.  This evidence accords well with the views on the formation of coal expressed by Velikovsky and summarised in Chapter 1, viz.: "Forests were burned and trees were uprooted and broken by hurricanes ... tidal waves swept the splintered trees into large heaps and covered them with marine sands ... successive tides covered the initial layers with more accumulations of plant debris and marine sediments."  Since fusain is a frequent and universal component of hard coals (sub-bituminous, bituminous and anthracites) and if the forest fire theory of formation during world revolutions is correct, then the normal mode of deposition of plant debris forming hard coals is substantially as described by Velikovsky and Nilsson (cf.  Chapters I and III) and the abnormal is the long continued cyclic process of sedimentation also described in Chapter 1.

To The Editor:

I believe that the starting point for any scientific or philosophic advance is to assume that orthodox thought on any subject of complexity is invariably wrong, to a greater or lesser degree, and only by a close examination of the limitations and defects of current theory can serious progress be made.  In my study of the formation and composition of coals, I have sought information and views from all reliable sources and, wherever possible, I have drawn what I consider to be the best conclusions from the evidence available.

Velikovsky "has committed himself to arguing for revolutionary events that are supposed to have taken place on our earth in historical times.  He connects violent catastrophes, which he finds recorded in the most ancient writings and traditions of various peoples, with an extraterrestrial phenomenon . . . Velikovsky's presentation is, from beginning to end, in decided and eloquent opposition to Lyell's notions of a geological continuity." (H. Nilsson, Synthetische Artbildung, Vol. 1, 1953, p 653.)

In relation to the modes of formation of coals, I have found that Velikovsky has quoted from the works of many authorities of considerable scientific standing, particularly from the work of some German and English authorities of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Much of the evidence presented by these authorities I have checked and found to be satisfactory!  So much so, that I agree large scale accumulations of coal-forming debris have frequently been formed by diastrophic (or catastrophic) occurrences in past geological periods, and that, as a result of metamorphic changes, these now appear as mature coals, or, occasionally, as special accumulations of modified land and sea organic fossil products, including amber, jet, fusain, hard coals and cannel coals.  I believe that this has occurred more often and on a much greater scale than was visualized by the earlier protagonists of the "drift" theory of coal formation; but acceptance of this conclusion by no means excludes the formation of many deposits by more "peaceful" processes, usually described as "in situ" formations.

Whilst evidence supports the view that many coal deposits, or portions of deposits, are formed by diastrophic processes, as described by Velikovsky and others, I cannot accept his fourth premise on this subject, viz.: "If the debris becomes impregnated with bitumen (i.e., from an external source) the coal formed is a bituminous coal."

In my experience, there is no evidence to support this statement, since bitumen (or any hydrocarbon contained in mineral bitumen) is present in only small proportions (usually less than one percent) in mature coals.  The term "bituminous coal" is an unfortunate misnomer, derived from the appearance of some mature coals, or portions of mature coals, and from their property of becoming plastic, with decomposition, when heated, to form low, medium, or high temperature cokes.

Wilfrid Francis

The term "bituminous coal" is not of my making—it is well established.  Francis uses it throughout his book and also in the quoted passages.  Bituminous coal has often more than one percent of bitumen, but even one percent of it needs explanation as to its origin. In Worlds in Collision I offered such explanation and it was echoed by A. T Wilson (Nature, October 6, 1962), who claimed all deposits of oil on earth are of extraterrestrial origin.  I. V.

[1]   Velikovsky did not claim in his published books that "life of all kinds" was "periodically" destroyed; he maintains that in global catastrophes many species were annihilated, other species decimated, and mutations took place.  The catastrophes occurred in "historical, prehistorical, and pre-human times," but not at "periodic" intervals.  Ed.

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