Special Interest

Petrified Forest National Park

Their waters have roared and been troubled, the mountains have been troubled by His might. The mountains
skipped like rams, and the hills like lambs. The earth trembled at the presence of the Lord.
Fifteen cubits upward was the waters raised, and it covered all the high mountains.
And there died all flesh that moved upon the earth, of flying creatures and cattle,
and of wild beasts, and every reptile moving upon the earth

(Psalms 45:3, 113:4; Genesis 7:20–21).

So is this great and spacious sea, therein are things creeping innumerable,
small living creatures with the great. . . there this dragon,
whom Thou hast made to play therein

(Psalm 103:27–28).

All things hast Thou subjected under his feet . . . The birds
of the air, and the fish of the sea, the things that pass
through the paths of the sea. O Lord, our Lord,
how wonderful is Thy name in all the earth

(Psalm 8:6–8).

About ninety years ago, Charles Fletcher Lummis, American author and editor (1859–1928), delivered himself of an "agnostic" judgment about Arizona's Petrified Forest. It may still be considered valid: "When you come to the Petrified Forest — well, one guess may be as good as another! The greatest geologists, the greatest botanists, have bumped their inconclusive heads against it in vain. . . It is the prime mystery in geology — the hardest nut, and the hardest wood, in the world." Although fascination with dinosaurs beginning in the nineteenth century led quickly to a common decision about the general significance of the Petrified Forest, the full story of this beautiful natural site is far from in.

Petrified Forest National Park is located in a relatively isolated area of northeastern Arizona. It is covered with bare, stunningly multicolored hills stained by iron, manganese, and other minerals, gaudily proclaiming their origin in fire, wind, and water. The area is over 5,000 feet above sea level. Science tells us that its hills have been eroding fairly rapidly over many millennia to unlock bands of gorgeous pinks, reds, grays, oranges, and whites of former levels of existence. Preserved in them are the fossil remains of prior life forms — such as prong-toothed sharks (about 3 feet long) and thorny-snouted fish — which inhabited lakes and swamps, some say, around 225 million years ago.

It is said that this wilderness of northeastern Arizona was located eons ago 1,700 miles to the south of where it is today. It existed as a low, relatively flat, humid coastal plain not far from the earth's equator. To the south and east of this ancient coastal plain lay volcanic mountains, the remnants of which rise as the Mogollon ["muggy-yone" in Westernese] Highlands of western New Mexico. To the west of this primitive land lay the Late Triassic Ocean about where Nevada is today, and what we know today as California had yet to be formed by tectonic plates grazing the North American continent from distances far away.

Out of the entire area that is now Northern Arizona great rivers flowed northward into a series of lakes, and into a large lake about where Great Salt Lake in Utah is located today.

Scientific speculation theorizes that the trees which now lie petrified in the Park had once grown tall and resplendent during the Late Triassic Age. Some had planted themselves on a broad, humid flood plain such as is found today in Louisiana. Others, originally prospering in the volcanic mountains located hundreds of miles to the east, were felled and carried down to the flood plain in repeated flash flooding or following some more violent catastrophes of volcanism.

Flash floods are frequent occurrences in modern Arizona. They can do severe damage to terrain and to people and animals that happen to be in their way. It seems obvious that super-floods, perhaps in the form of swollen prehistoric rivers, must have frequently rushed down from the mountains onto the hollows of the lower-lying plains, inundating and filling them. The flood covered some trees where they stood, for their fossilized roots still exist in place. But multitudes of other mighty trees have been identified as arauca conifers related to today's Norfolk Island pines — together with ancient plants and animals, leaving their remains scattered about to harden in thick muck. Their graveyard, now known as the Chinle Formation, slowly collected mud, silt, sand, and gravel to a thickness of over 800 feet.

Before their destruction by the forces of nature, some of the now petrified trees had attained heights of from 100 to 200 feet, with diameters of from four to ten feet! The process by which such giants were toppled like matchsticks, moved from great heights, and buried by the thousands in low-lying mud can be well imagined by modern man in light of the Tunguska "meteorite" explosion in Siberia in 1908, or the much less violent catastrophe of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State in 1980. Petrified Forest National Monument bears the scars and remains of vast prehistoric forests now scattered about as petrified logs on the eroded surface of Arizona, awing thousands of visitors who visit this area of natural beauty each year.

Ten centuries ago, Chinese scholars described the phenomenon of petrified wood. Around 1050 a.d. Shen Kua proposed that fossilized plants discovered near Yen-chou were evidence of radical change in climatic conditions in ages past. He was struck by the appearance of petrified bamboo in alluvial soil where bamboo did not and does not grow. Thus, he concluded that at one time, the Yen-chou region must have been subject to low, damp, and gloomy climatic conditions favorable to the growth of bamboo.

[Shen Kua (1030–1093) was a Chinese astronomer, engineer, and high official whose famous work Dream Pool Essays contains the first reference to the magnetic compass, the first account of relief maps, a rather accurate explanation of the origin of fossils, and many other scientific contributions. He wrote the essays after suffering banishment from office because troops he commanded were defeated in a battle in which 60,000 lives were lost.]

Shen Kua also recognized marine invertebrate fossils for what they were, and concluded that the region of their discovery must have once been the shore of a sea, and that the sediment laid down by the Yellow and other great rivers of China must have been responsible for the creation of a large part of the continent of Asia.

Science explains that petrified wood is a product of fossilization which occurs when natural wood fibers are replaced by minerals, especially silicon dioxide which dissolves in water. As the water percolated through the fallen, mud-inundated logs, the silicon came out of solution and combined with oxygen to produce minute crystals of quartz which filled spaces in the tree tissues. The presence of other minerals added a great variety of colorations. Thus the shape and form of entire trees yielded over time to cryptocrystalline quartz and jasper, often so precisely that not only the external, but even the internal structure of pre-existing trees is preserved as solid, multicolored "rock." In the late 1800s, collectors carried away some of the best of the petrified logs in this area of Arizona, dynamiting some for their crystals. (In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt secured passage of a bill establishing the Petrified Forest National Monument, putting the trees under government protection.)

The Petrified Forest National Park, established in 1962, is located eighteen miles southeast of Holbrook, Arizona along US 180. The existence of the Petrified Forest gives rise to still unexplained mysteries about sudden mass fossilization of trees and other objects which has occurred at various times in the history of the earth. Presumably, living trees and other objects are suddenly submerged in mud of a certain chemical/mineral consistency. This keeps them from decaying for as long as necessary for fossilization to take place. While the tree or other object was turning to stone, the mud which encased it was also turned to stone, but then leached away by "selective erosion." None of the petrified tree structure is leached away in the same process, however, but is left eroded high and dry on the surface to be found by modern man. Some of the strange animals which used to live here are also now fossilized and may be seen in the Park's exhibits.

There are many riddles associated with fossils discovered in modern times. For example, a mineralized wasp's nest, normally constructed of wasp "paper," was found lying in sand somewhere in Arizona. Men, women, and children, fossilized in volcanic ash, have been unearthed in Italy's Pompeii without benefit of the millions of years of a fossilization process presumed necessary. Also intriguing are the many large pieces of petrified wood in the Petrified Forest National Park that appear to have been sawed off square. If not preserved whole, but broken, why should they be meticulously shaped as though by a saw?

As a result of anomalies of this sort, some scientists are reexamining the "catastrophist" principle first suggested 150 years ago by Georges Cuvier, the great French naturalist. He attempted to account for obvious cases of sudden, not gradual, mass fossilization such as the marine fossil beds found at high elevations in the Alps, on the crest of the Sandia Mountains of New Mexico, and elsewhere. When we served in Brentwood, Tennessee in the mid-1990s, our yard was filled with fossilizing sea shells. (A short distance away the remains of a mastodon had just been unearthed during excavation for road construction.)

Catastrophism was long rejected by science because it seemed to support the religious concept of the Flood of Noah's day. The official "uniformitarian" dogma which specifies that existing processes, acting as they do at present, are sufficient to account for all geological changes, has also suited the purposes of old-line biologists. Darwinian evolutionary theory requires vastly protracted, uneventful time. Without it, "evolutionary" changes cannot be accounted for.

The ancient location of Petrified Forest National Park is not without modern life forms which are very well adapted to contemporary desert existence. Despite the fact that rainfall is meager (9 inches per year), and permanent water does not exist there, prickly pear and cholla cacti abound. When infrequent rains do fall propitiously at just the right time, beautiful evening primroses, Indian paintbrushes, mariposa lilies, sunflowers, and other plants spring back to life in glorious profusion. Buckwheat and saltbrush also thrive here. Such birds as ravens, rock wrens,and horned larks are often seen, as are small mammals and lizards; prairie dogs, blacktailed Jack rabbits, cottontails; pronghorns, coyotes, and bobcats.

Glory be to God for all things!

Father John Bockman

References for this article include: Weird America, by Jim Brandon
(N.Y.: Dutton, 1978), pp. 10–11;
Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th Ed., "Petrified Forest National Park";
Dawn of the Dinosaurs: The Triassic in Petrified Forest,
by Robert A. Long, et al., 1988;
Arizona Travelers Handbook, Third Edition, 1991;
Petrified Forest National Park, by G. M. Lubick
(University of Arizona Press, 1996);
and The Holy Bible.

Polytonic Greek Alphabet Does Windows

Polytonality is a term usually employed only in the field of music where it refers to the simultaneous use of two or more different tonalities or musical keys. Polytonality frequently occurs, for example, in the music of the early twentieth century. Sergei Prokofiev's production "Sarcasms" for piano juxtaposes the key of F# minor in the right hand of the pianist with B minor in the left. In language, polytonality occurs when a number of different musical pitches are used in the continuous flow of speech. Those who have heard a speaker of Chinese may have noticed a decidedly musical quality to his utterances, as though he were singing rather than merely speaking.

Twenty-one hundred years ago the Greek language was polytonic. Like Chinese, it must have sounded very much like singing. The polytonic alphabet was designed in antiquity to codify this peculiarity of the ancient Greek tongue as a teaching tool. The alphabet employed six different accent marks for rising, falling, and rising-and-falling pitches. The classical Greek language has not been spoken for many centuries, but the integrity of its written form, which employs these marks, has been jealously guarded up to the present by a small number of scholars and ecclesiastics. Meanwhile, the vast majority of speakers of Greek use Modern Greek which has lost polytonality and no longer needs a variety of marks to show differences in pitch.

In ancient Greek, however, with the exception of a few monosyllabic or dissyllabic words of lesser importance, every word is marked by a rise in the musical pitch of the voice. This rise is recorded by an accent mark on one of the vowels. If a word has more than three syllables, the accent will fall on one of the last three vowels. If short vowels carry the accent, they have only a rising tone, recorded by the so-called acute accent. A rising tone followed by a falling tone is recorded by the so-called circumflex accent. Within a phrase, the vowel of a final syllable normally having a rising tone is weakened in accent, recorded by a so-called grave accent. The rules governing the position and nature of these marks are very strict.

The polytonic alphabet also employs breathing marks, even though they were superfluous for native speakers of ancient Greek. They had been brought up as children to speak the language correctly and did not need accent and breathing marks. The introduction of accent and breathing marks resulted from a radical transformation of the Greek language between 400 and 200 b.c. when Greek became an international language used by non-Greeks as well as Greeks. The accents and breathing marks were designed about 200 b.c., reputedly by Aristophanes of Byzantium, to assist non-native speakers. Thereafter the use of the marks became an indispensable part of the written language. Every initial vowel carries one of two breathing marks, spiritus asper if the vowel is aspirated, and spiritus lenis if it is not. As an accentuation system for Modern Greek, the polytonic would be much more complicated than is necessary, because in Modern Greek initial vowels are never aspirated. The breathing marks are therefore redundant.

The Microsoft Corporation in Windows 2000 makes it possible for twenty-first century scholars to type Ancient Greek using the polytonic alphabet. This move, which will hardly be profitable for Microsoft, is seen as "the U.S. software giant's efforts to navigate the treacherous seas of local culture and politics in the scores of markets where its products are sold" (Kevin J. Delaney, The Wall Street Journal, February 22, 2000). Microsoft has already developed character sets for Turkish, Cyrillic, Arabic, and Thai. Windows 2000 will also feature Indic scripts serving Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Konkani, and Sanskrit.

In the case of the polytonic Greek alphabet, Microsoft was responding to a letter drafted by eleven legislators of the Greek Parliament to its president proposing an investigation into why the U.S. company did not include the polytonic Greek alphabet in its repertoire. When this was picked up by Greek newspapers, a flood of calls and mail from users descended on Microsoft's Greek unit.

One wonders, however, whether dealing with the clamor for favorite character sets could be as unprofitable as dealing with the government's antitrust suit and other class-action lawsuits by wannabe giant-slayers. The understatement of the year is that Microsoft would probably rather be "navigating the treacherous seas of local culture and politics" in its myriad markets.

Arizona Dino Update

The estimated 20-foot-tall, 35-ton Sonorasaurus thompsoni, Arizona's exclusive dinosaur featured in "Will the Real Arizona State Dinosaur Please Stand Up?" (June-September 1999 issue of this publication) continues to lie mostly buried in solid rock, despite the removal by hand of almost forty tons of it. Having recovered about 25 per cent of the remains, officials of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson have announced that they can no longer proceed to excavate the rest of the bones which lie twenty-five feet below the surface in vertical sandstone layers of a remote canyon north of Sonoita, Arizona, southeast of Tucson. So far they have spent $200,000 in the task, but the rest of the dinosaur bones are too difficult and too expensive to get at. Heavy equipment will have to be moved in to finish the job.

Robert McCord, the curator of paleontology at Southwest Museum in Mesa has expressed interest in picking up where the local museum left off. The dinosaur is considered a significant find, partly because it may represent the last sauropods in North America before they became extinct 100 million years ago. Sauropods had re-entered the continent from South America a reputed 25 million years earlier, and, together with all dinosaurs, vanished a reputed 65 million years ago.

The resignation of Ron Ratkevich, Desert Museum paleontologist, in 1998 has complicated the issue for the Desert Museum. The new Arizona Antiquities Act requires that a certified paleontologist head the excavation project. Since the Desert Museum has no plans to replace Ratkevich, it could not be granted an excavation permit, and had to stop digging.

The Desert Museum will display some of its collection of 800 bone fragments outside the north end of the Museum's Earth Sciences Center.


Tectonic plates are pieces of the earth's crust that have been formed by cracks in the crust, much like a cracked eggshell. The cracks are called "fault lines."

The plates float on the liquid center of the earth. The liquid inside the earth, extremely hot, consists of melted rock. The temperature ranges from 4000 degrees Fahrenheit in the outer core to 8100 degrees Fahrenheit in the inner core.

The tectonic plates move around on this liquid very slowly, but every now and then they meet. When they do, they usually become locked for a while. During this time, tremendous forces build up. Eventually these forces overcome the friction between the plates and cause them to lurch into new positions. They might split into smaller plates, or the edges could scrape by one another, or one plate could slip on top of another, or the edges might crumple up and form mountains. The lurch of the plates creates an earthquake.

The severity of an earthquake is measured on a seismograph which uses what is known as the Richter Scale, developed by a seismologist (one who studies earthquakes) named Charles Richter. These are some of the effects at various readings on that scale:

2.0–2.9 Not felt by many; detected by seismographs.
3.0–3.9 Slight vibration; hanging objects swing.
4.0–4.9 Small objects move and rattle.
5.0–5.9 Furniture moves; masonry cracks and falls.
6.0–6.9 People have difficulty standing; walls and chimneys collapse partially.
7.0–7.9 Buildings collapse, the ground cracks, and landslides occur.
8.0–8.9 Damage to underground structures; rock masses are moved.

Glory be to God for all things!

Adapted from: The Order of Things,
by Barbara Ann Kipfer (New York:
Random House, 1997), pp. 9–12.

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