Monday, July 19, 2010

The Mystery of the Bell Found in Coal

I try not to get bogged down in debunking specific bits of evidence advanced by creationists because I think the real issue is not scientific or pseudo scientific flim flam, but whether Genesis 1-3 is poetic allegory or scientific history and whether Jesus understood it as either. However, something caught my attention during a broadcast on Revelation TV last Friday night featuring Dr Grady McMurtry. Those not familiar with Dr McMurtry might like to read my previous article about him. During the broadcast he was asked by a viewer for evidence that the earth was in the region of 7,000 years old. In reply he gave a list of examples of evidence including the case of a brass bell found inside a lump of coal which would be impossible if the coal was prehistoric.

This is one of a number of evidencial claims which the largest creationist organisation Answers in Genesis lists as “to be avoided” due to lack of substantive evidence. The Answers in Genesis list (which can be viewed here) also includes other claims that Dr McMurtry has used in recent television broadcasts (including a pre flood canopy of water vapour surrounding the earth and the speed of light changing over time). That’s not to say that this Answers in Genesis not using these theories totally defeats his argument. After all they feel able to make the case for a young earth without using any of this questionable evidence. However, I think that using it does weaken his position as someone claiming to use a scientific approach to creation issues.

Having had my interest sparked I decided to investigate the bell story and this is what I found.

The bell was found in 1944 by a ten year old boy called Newton Anderson who dropped a lump of coal and found the bell inside. Mr Anderson kept the bell until 2007 when passed it to Genesis Park (a creationist web site run by Dave Woetzel). At this time he underwent polygraph tests to determine if he was telling the truth about the discovery of the bell and the result of this was that “no deception was detected”.

There are two parts to this story which need to be examined:
  • The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the bell.
  • The bell itself.

The Bell
The bell is made of brass (an alloy of copper and zinc) with traces of tin, arsenic, iodine and selenium. It is about seven inches tall and is mounted with a crudely described figure appearing to have one visible leg, two arms and a head. You can see detailed photographs of the bell here.

What does the figure on the top represent?
Newton Anderson himself spent some time investigating the bell and found similar bells bearing the figure of the Hindu deity Garuda. These bells are used in certain Hindu ceremonies including marriages. Here is a photograph of a Garuda bell. Now click here to see some detailed photographs of the bell found by Newton Anderson.

The photograph above shows a black and white image of a garuda bell on the left and the bell found in coal on the right. If you compare the two you will see a number of similarities. Note the leg appearing out of the casting. Whats interesting about the bell found in coal is that rather than be a smooth complete casting the figure on the top has a large number of filing marks clearly visible on it. If the filed areas are compared to the same areas on a Garuda bell it can be seen that removing those areas from the Garuda bell would produce an artifact with a very similar appearance to the bell found by Newton Anderson.

Here I have marked some of the areas that appear to have parallel, linear filing marks:

In my opinion the case put forward by supporters of the bell that it represents some demonic deity of pre flood times is not proven. It is more likely to have been made by obtaining a Garuda bell and removing material from it with a file. If the figure on the bell found in coal contained more material than the figure of Garuda (extra parts, wings or some other extremity) then it could not have started life as a Garuda bell. As it stands it is a distinct possibility that it did.
As for it being a representation of a demon, I have not seen any depictions of demons which equate with this image so if we are to assess what it represents then the Hindu deity Garuda (or at least a modified version of it) seems to be the closest. Depictions of Garuda have changed through the years and the oldest ones I have seen have a more elaborate depiction. This might be a further indication that this is a recent object (less than 200 years old).

What about the brass?
It has been claimed that the bell is made of an alloy of brass which is different from any modern alloy. The claim is that a nuclear activation analysis was undertaken which revealed that the bell contained copper, zinc, tin, arsenic, iodine, and selenium.

Copper and zinc are the main components of brass so they have to be present or it isn't brass. Copper and tin produces bronze and tin is sometimes added to brass to make it harder wearing (for use in bearings for example). Arsenic and Antimony are routinely added in tiny quantities to reduce corrosion, especially in brass used in ships.

Further to this, although it is possible to buy off the shelf bars of brass a lot of casting work relies on melting down scrap brass. In fact brass is one of the most recycled metals due to the value of the copper it contains. In any business casting non mechanical wear items like ornaments and clothes fastenings there will be little concern about what brass scraps go into the mix other than their price.

In my opinion the case that the alloy the bell is made from is unusual indicating some ancient origin is not proven. The presence of the additional metals actually indicates a recent manufacturing date not an ancient date, after the routine use of brass in ships and the discovery of the necessary additives. It is more likely that the brass started life as worn bearings and ship's  fittings from a breakers yard, and that it was manufactured by an artisan in India or elsewhere in Asia in the hundred years preceding its discovery.

What about the discovery of the bell in the coal?
The arguments about the figure on top of the bell and the constitution of the brass do not, in my opinion, point to an ancient date for this artifact. However, if it was found in a lump of coal then that either means it was buried in a swamp with ancient trees and it became coal (without being distorted by the pressure),  it was inserted into the block of coal later or it was present alongside the coal and only became visible when the piece of coal broke. All we have is the testimony of one person who says he found the bell when he was ten years old (over 60 years before he took the polygraph test). Polygraph tests are unreliable because they only tell us if someone thinks they are lying and there is no doubt that Mr Anderson believes he is telling the truth.

Another intriguing possibility is that the bell appeared to be in coal but was actually in a concretion of coal slurry and coal lumps hardened over time so that it appeared to be inside a contiguous lump of coal. This theory is expounded in this article.

Without documentary evidence from the time the story of the bell found in coal can not be taken as evidence for a young earth. Its just too far from what we know about geology and the artifact itself just doesn’t seem old enough.



    A polystrate fossil is an object found cutting through 2 or more layers of strata, sometimes dated thousands or millions of years old each. Usually it is a petrified tree.

    There are very few ways to explain this:

    The trees stood upright for millions of years while the sediment layers formed around them (not possible since the tree would have died, and the part above the ground would have rotted).

    The trees grew through hundreds of feet of solid sedimentary rock looking for sunlight (even more preposterous).

    The third possibility, that evolutionists would not suggest, is that a great flood buried the trees suddenly and they petrified. The layers of rock that are thought of as the geologic column actually settled on the bottom as the waters receded.

    The only excuse they do come up with is the evolutionists wave their magic wands and declare that layer in that spot must have formed very quickly (rapid sedimentation).

    The Kettles coal mines near Cookville, Tn. has hundreds of petrified trees. The top and bottom of the trees are in different coal seams dated thousands of years different in age. The trees range in height from 30 to hundreds of feet.

    Joggins, Nova Scotia, Canada and St. Etienne, France also have polystrate trees.

    What's the point - Coal is less than 5000 years old, so, it is not surprising that to find human crafted items in coal seams - one would have to 'decide' not to believe the empirical evidence as it exists today over a narcissistic philosophy such as Darwin's version of macro evolution which requires billions of years to take place and of which there is 'no' empirical evidence.

    1. erm... you didn't make a lot of sense here. the tree/leaf fossils form in coal due to imprinting on clay, rapid encasement, etc. much like fossilized trees. think like the people of pompeii.they were hit by the ash and soot so quickly that they dropped dead, they were covered by the volcanic materials, and were eventually turned to stone. let's face it. you're basing creationism on a line in the bible. a single line. hell, the story of the flood is over 10,000 years old.

  2. I think the problem here is that the chemical makeup of the brass dates it as 19th century or later.

    1. So you imply that "pre Noaic flood" humans could not have combined metals in the same manner as more recent metalurgists. That is obsurd.

    2. no, pre-flood humans didn't add things like selenium to brass. it wasn't available. also, realize the flood happened during the bronze age.

  3. to david, what is to say that the tree was not petrified then moved. you are assuming too much and why is it ok for "the great flood" to move something but not a "not so great" but just a normal one. wow, I just dont know what to day about your willing blindness


  5. What I said was that if you look at the timeline of the development of brass alloys and place this brass on it then it is recent. People have attempted to claim that this is an ancient artefact because of its chemical composition and that this composition is unusual. It is not unusual at all - for a modern alloy. I hope you can see my point.

  6. The claim made by creationists is that the composition of this brass is so unusual that it must be of ancient origin. I have shown in this article that the composition of the brass is consistent with marine brass manufactured since the 19th century which means that the composition of the brass itself can not be used as evidence that this is an ancient object.

  7. Hello Everyone, I am from Tamilnadu, India. It is a clear brass bell used in Hindu worshiping, Here it clearly shows Garuda, the mount of Lord Vishnu. If they were worshipers of Shiva some use bells with Nandhi (Bull) as it was the mount for Lord Shiva. Garuda is an Eagle not some demon, we have a brass bell in our house with nandhi the bull sitting as we are the Shiva worshipers...simple..but does that bell land there?

  8. Gordon, Can you provide an elemental analysis of the "bell" and some of the modern brass you talk about and let us see either the differences or similarities? You might be able to get a copy of the analysis from the Institute for Creation Research. The arsenic, chlorine and selenium might be contaminants rather than put there intentionally. I'm not sure if pre-flood metallurgist knew how to purify the metals like we do today. They may not have even realized the contaminants were present, assuming they had no way of performing an elemental analysis on the brass. I do have a problem with comparing the figure on the bell with modern day deities. If only 8 people passed through the flood how did the design of a figure from before the flood end up in the post-flood world? Either one of the eight people worshiped this god and so made more figures after the flood that perpetuated up to today or they brought some figures onto the ark with them and they remained until others started reproducing them. If the figure had not been similar to any known deity it would have been easier to believe it was pre-flood.

  9. Polystrate fossils.
    In the Internet age, it's very easy to look up this information. Really. Trees in areas that have flooded (due to landslide, earthquake, beaver dams, even human construction) do not rot where there is no oxygen. Trees will stand in fresh water for a thousand years, so long as the trunk is far enough under water. Repeated droppings of silt, floods, landslides etc will pile debris around the trunks.
    Think about digging up rotten fence posts. (I assume you have if you are commenting about the nature of the decay of wood.). Where is the most rot? It's always one foot above and one foot below ground, because there's no oxygen further down in the ground and no moisture a foot above. Both are necessary.

    And the double standard that the brass is not modern- so it must be ancient. Demonstrate that it's a "modern" (19th C) alloy, and the story changes to say that they simply made "modern" alloys 6000 years. Rediculous

  10. I guess you don't know that other artifacts have been found in coal... Here's just one example.

    Anyhow, it seems you would know this, but apparently not.

    1. odd example to use, since it is basically de-bunked right in the article...

    2. odd example to use, since it is basically de-bunked right in the article...

  11. It's amusing watching the obsurd lengths both evolutionists and christian creations go through trying rationalize an ancient hindu artifact discovered in Tenessee. At first they admit that everything about it violates the paradigm in which they view the world, so they simply conclude, well the boy MUST be lieing. Then, when the boy passes the polygraph test, they challenge the very method they used in attempt to disprove his discovery. This isn't just poor scientific investigation, this is perniciously false and deceiptful scientific investigation. This is only one in many cases that you see the commen narrative breakdown in the face of contrasting evidence. Both evolutionists and christian creationists are responsible for the obsurd parameters in which this discussion takes place.

    1. Considering there is nothing to show that polygraph tests are accurate in any way, it's a much safer bet to assume the boy is lying than you suggest

    2. I merely pointed out the irony that scientists used an unreliable polygraph test to attempt to show the boy was lieing because they were unable to refute the circumstances of the artifact's discovery. Then, after the test showed the boy was telling the truth, scientists questioned the validity of the polygraph test, as if to make a wash of the entire investigation. Which means to ignore the actual physical evidence suggesting that artifact was found exactly as the boy said he found it.

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  13. The hyperlinks to photos of the bell are dead links. does lead to detailed photos.