Miners in northern Myanmar’s fossilized amber mines have been unearthing some incredible specimens containing the remains of an array of small creatures from the Cretaceous period of Earth’s history, which stretched from around 145 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. Fossilized amber is an amazing material that originated from the resins of trees or plants millions of years ago. The sticky organic resin oozes from certain types of trees, and from time to time, parts of plants, insects, spiders and other small creatures are trapped in it. Over millions of years, some of the resin that was trapped in layers of sediment and under immense pressure became fossilized amber. Due to the lack of oxygen needed for decay, organic material and even small creatures trapped inside the amber were able to remain remarkably intact and preserved. The advantage of fossilized amber over fossilized rock specimens is the greater integrity of delicate details such as pollen, skin and feathers.
Much of the fossilized amber mined in Myanmar is polished and sold in gem markets for use in jewellery, the pieces with trapped creatures in them being particularly desired for their ornamentation. Recently the scientific community has taken more interest in intercepting and purchasing these fossilized amber specimens for their immense value in providing the opportunity to study life on Earth as far back as 100 million years ago, which is when the Burmese amber was likely deposited. Some recent examples of Cretaceous period specimens found in amber include several species of ants and termites, the oldest example of a chameleon, and recently the wing of a bird-like dinosaur with intact feathers and soft tissue. A great deal of information is being uncovered about these ancient creatures through micro-CT scans and electron microscopy of fossilized amber specimens, led by scientific institutions such as the Florida Museum of Natural History (US), the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (France), and the China University of Geosciences Beijing.
Do these incredible discoveries of 100-million-year-old insect remains conflict with the creation account found in the Bible, or does the Bible provide us clues that would allow for an ancient world teeming with plant and animal life? You might be surprised by the answer.
In the first two verses of Genesis there is a thought-provoking description that gives us an indication that a created version of the world existed well before the creation event mentioned in the remainder of Chapter 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:1, New International Version). The Hebrew words for “formless and empty” are paraphrased “tohu and bohu” and indicate a state of confusion and waste. We know from another scripture that “God is not a God of confusion . . . ” (1 Corinthians 14:33, English Standard Version). Taken together, the statements that the planet was in a state of confusion and waste and that God is not the source of confusion strongly implies that the Earth became formless and empty rather than having been created that way. In fact, the New International Version of the Bible (NIV) includes a footnote explaining that Genesis 1:2 can be appropriately rendered “. . . the earth became formless and empty.”
What was the Earth like before becoming formless and empty? It may be that we are learning more about this ancient world when we study the incredible specimens trapped in fossilized amber from the Cretaceous period millions of years ago.
T. Brandon Sexton