An iron and wooden hammer, sometimes called the “London Artifact” or “London Hammer,” found by local hikers in a creek bed near London, Texas in 1936, has been promoted by Carl Baugh and other strict creationists as an out-of place artifact.
They maintain that the hammer, which was partially embedded in a small, limy rock concretion, originated in a Cretaceous rock formation (or an Ordovician or Silurian one, depending on the account), thus contradicting the standard geologic timetable.
However, the hammer was not documented in situ, and has not been reliably associated with any specific host formation. Other relatively recent implements have been found encased in by similar nodules, and can form within centuries or even decades under proper conditions (Stromberg, 2004).
The hammer in question was probably dropped or discarded by a local miner or craftsman within the last few hundred years, after which dissolved limy sediment hardened into a nodule around it. Although a brief rebuttal to Baugh’s hammer claims was made by Cole (1985), Baugh and a few other creationists continue to promote it. This review provides further analysis of the hammer and creationist claims about it.
Mr. and Mrs. Max Hahn were hiking along the Red Creek near the small town of London, Texas, in June 1936 (or 1934, according to others), when they happened upon a small rock nodule with a piece of wood protruding from it. According to Helfinstine and Roth (1994), Max Hahn’s son George broke open the rock nodule in 1946 or 1947, revealing the rest of the hammer, including a metal hammer head.
It is important to note that even some creationist accounts (Baugh 1997, Mackay, 1985) acknowledge that the hammer bearing nodule was not attached to the surrounding rocks of the creek. Mackay (1985) explicitly states “The rock was sitting loose on a ledge and was not part of the surrounding ledge.”
Likewise, creationist David Lines notes that the rock containing the hammer was found “sitting loose on a rock ledge beside a waterfall outside London, Texas.”(Lines, 1996).
Evidently no photos or other reliable documentation exists to confirm the exact circumstances of the original discovery. However, the lack of sharp marks on the nodule seems to confirm the reports that it was found loose and not chiseled from a larger rock.
Reportedly the hammer head showed little oxidation when first revealed, and that it was smooth, with a brownish “fossil” [sic] coating, which has since become somewhat rusted and “rough” (Helfinstine and Roth, 1994). The hammer head is basically rectangular, with one end featuring concave bevels forming a pattern resembling a + sign; the other end is less distinct but contains a protrusion in the center. The handle appears to be largely unmineralized wood, although it shows some small areas of black carbonization at the ends.
Around 1983 the hammer was acquired by creationist Carl E. Baugh, an active advocate of Paluxy River “man tracks” and other alleged geologic anomalies, who began to call it the “London Artifact.” In 1986 I was allowed to examine and photograph the hammer while Baugh displayed it at the 1986 creation conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and again in 2006 after a talk by Baugh at his “Creation Evidence Museum” in Texas.
From the start Baugh and other creationists seemed to presume without clear evidence that the nodule in question was once a natural part of the nearby rocks. They also seemed to have trouble deciding to what mainstream geologic period the nearby rocks belonged. For years Baugh claimed that it came from an Ordovician formation (Baugh, 1983, 1986, 1987), whereas Walter Lang (1983) and Bartz (1984) reported that the hammer was found in Silurian rock. A report in Creation Ex Nihilo (Mackay, 1983) stated the hammer was “in limestone dated at 300 million years old” (which would make it Pennsylvanian).
A subsequent CEN article (Mackay, 1984) stated that the hammer was in “Ordovician rock, supposedly some 400 million years old” (although that age would make it Devonian, not Ordovician). In yet another CEN report (Mackay, 1985) stated, “the rocks associated with the hammer are supposedly some 400-500 million years old” (which would include part of the lower Devonian, all of the Silurian, and most of the Ordovician Period).
Baugh and others (Wilson and Baugh, 1996) continued to claim the rock was in Ordovician or “Ordovecian [sic]” rock, even after researcher John Watson, according to Helfinstine and Roth (1994) pointed out that the rock outcrops at the Red Creek site were actually Lower Cretaceous (Hensell [sic] Sand Formation), to which they ascribed (incorrectly) an orthodox age “near to 135 mybp.” On Baugh’s 2006 web site, a FAQ addressing the question “Did man and dinosaur live at the same time?” states that the hammer was found in “Ordovician strata,” whereas the “London Artifact” essay on the same web site associates the hammer with “Cretaceous rock.”
Whatever the reasons for these inconsistencies in creationist reports, evidently the rock strata at the site are indeed Hensel Sand Member of the Travis Formation (Lower Cretaceous, upper Aptian stage), considered approximately 110-115 million years old by conventional geologists. Stratigraphicly the Hensel formation immediately underlies the Lower Cretaceous Glen Rose Formation, in which the Paluxy River tracks occur about 150 miles to the north. Although Mackay (1984) suggested (while calling the hammer Ordovician) that the artifact is somehow associated with those who made the supposed human footprints in Glen Rose, close examination of the Paluxy evidence does not support the presence of genuine human tracks, and no rigorous evidence has been presented by any creationists linking the hammer to the nearby strata in Red Creek, let alone those in Glen Rose.
It should be noted that although Baugh has strongly promoted the hammer as a dramatic “pre-Flood” artifact, as have a few individuals writing for the Bible-Science Association and the Creation Science Foundation, other creationists organizations, including ICR and CRSQ, have said little or nothing about it in their literature, perhaps realizing its dubious nature.
Although the hammer has been kept under close guard by Baugh and thus not readily available for detailed analysis by conventional scientists, in 1985 NCSE researcher John Cole briefly reviewed Baugh’s hammer claims. Although Cole did not challenge Baugh’s presumption at the time that the nearby rocks were Ordovician, Cole pointed out that minerals dissolved from ancient strata could harden around a recent object, stating:
The stone is real, and it looks impressive to someone unfamiliar with geological processes. How could a modern artifact be stuck in Ordovician rock? The answer is that the concretion itself is not Ordovician. Minerals in solution can harden around an intrusive object dropped in a crack or simply left on the ground if the source rock (in this case, reportedly Ordovician) is chemically soluble (Cole, 1985).
Cole also noted that the hammer is of “recent American historic style,” and concluded that it was probably a 19th century miner’s hammer. Others have suggested that it might be a metal working hammer, and that the protrusion on one end of the head might have once contained a leather or wood cap that has since weathered away (Helfinstine and Roth, 1994). Perhaps further research will clarify its actual use and precise age.
In order to claim the hammer as a reliable out-of-place artifact, one would need either:
1. Convincing documentation that the hammer was once naturally embedded in an ancient rock formation, or
2. Independent scientific evidence indicating a problematic age for the hammer.
So far neither has been provided. The lack of evidence for the first condition has already been acknowledged in creationist accounts. Independent evidence for the hammer’s age could be gleaned from a number of methods, including Carbon 14 dating on the wooden handle. If there was no appreciable amount of C14 in it (beyond expected residual contamination) it would imply the hammer was more than 50,000 years old, and if younger than that, C14 could help pinpoint its actual age.
However, for years Baugh refused to allow the hammer to be C14 dated. In an exchange of letters between creationist Walter Brown and Jim Lippard in Creation/Evolution, Brown (1989) suggested that the hammer handle has not been dated because Baugh had three “understandable” conditions for dating it: that it be done with mass spectrometry, that Baugh be present during the dating, and that someone else pay for it. However, Lippard countered that no one has objected to the first two conditions, and that Baugh had no right to expect the third, since he’s the one making the claims, and thus the one obligated to back them up.
Even so, even after others offered to pay for the dating, Baugh declined to have it done. As Day (1991) wrote in a follow up letter: “Far from being ‘understandable,’ Baugh’s stipulations seem to be little short of evasive tactics… If four years have gone by and nothing has happened, I think it is safe to conclude that Baugh has no interest whatsoever in determining the truth about his marvelous hammer.”
Finally, in the late 1990’s Baugh supporter David Lines reported on a web site (Lines, 1997, 1999) that carbon 14 dating had “recently” been done on a specimen from the inside of the handle, and that the results “showed inconclusive dates ranging from the present to 700 years ago.” No information was given by Lines about when or where the dating was done, nor was any formal report referenced.
The date range also seems a little curious, since most C14 labs report a date with a plus-or-minus margin of error, rather than a wide range. Perhaps a number of tests were done with different results, but Lines does not clarify this. Evidently preferring a date in the thousands of years, Lines asserted that the dating results provided “graphic evidence that the handle has been contaminated by current organic substances.” However, C14 labs have ways of minimizing modern carbon contamination, and it would not likely produce ages orders of magnitude in error.
At any rate, if the reported date range is even roughly indicative of the hammer’s age, it is more supportive of the mainstream view of the hammer than Baugh’s. After all, Baugh considers the hammer to be a “pre-Flood” relic– presumably at least a few thousand years old. Baugh reportedly dismissed the results as only evidence that C14 is untrustworthy. However, even many creationists consider C14 dating reasonably accurate to several thousand years or more.
Another potentially useful exercise would be to analyze the composition of the concretion, comparing its lithology and fossil content (both macro and micro) with the nearby creek strata. A shell and other shell fragments are readily visible in the nodule, and Mackay (1985) stated that the fossils in the nodule “are similar to those in the surrounding area.” Likewise, Helfinstine and Roth (1994) suggest the lithology of the nodule is the same as the nearby rocks.
However, to my knowledge no one has positively identified the clam species, or confirmed whether they are fossil or modern forms, or made a detailed comparison of the lithology or other aspects of concretion with that of nearby rocks. From the brief examinations I made of the object in 1986 and 2006, my impression was that the large clam shell was probably a recent species.
One problem for hammer advocates is that careful analysis of the nodule’s composition could conclusively refute Baugh’s claim that it is an out- of-place artifact, but could not confirm it. That is, if the nodule contained only geologically recent material, there would be no reason to consider the hammer any older. However, as noted by Cole, if the nodule contained or was composed of ancient material, the hammer itself could still be of recent origin, since it could have been left in a place where a solution of ancient sediment collected and hardened around it. Such limy concretions can sometimes form in decades or less, and have been found around modern objects such as World War II artifacts (McKusick and Shinn, 1980). It’s even possible that the nodule might contain a mixture of ancient and modern sediments or organic remains, as might occur in muddy muddles and pits in a mining operation.
The early American style of the hammer, and the largely undistorted and poorly mineralized condition of the handle, further suggests a relatively recent date. Well-preserved wood from Mesozoic or Paleozoic formations would not be expected to have such an appearance, nor to my knowledge have any similar wood specimens been documented in the nearby formation. Lines asserts on Baugh’s web site that the hammer is partially “petrified” but I saw no evidence of this when I examined it in person, and other creationists have agreed that the wood in the handle looks relatively fresh, not much different from modern hardwood hammers (Helfinstine and Roth, 1994). In view of these considerations, It seems highly unlikely that the hammer was ever a natural part of the nearby Cretaceous beds, and more likely that it was dropped or discarded by a local miner or craftsman within the last few hundred years. It’s also possible that the nodule was brought or washed into the area from some distance away, or from a higher stratum.
Lacking any rigorous geologic evidence for their claims, hammer advocates have tried to make hay from the composition of the hammer head. Mackay (1985) and Lang (1983) reported that the hammer was studied at the renown Batelle Laboratories in Columbus, Ohio, where the head was found to consist of 96.6% iron, 2.6% chlorine, and 0.74% sulfur by weight. Baugh suggested this profile was impossible to duplicate with modern technology under present atmospheric conditions (Helfinstine and Roth, 1994). However, this claim would be difficult to substantiate. Even if the composition were truly unique, it would more likely indicate a lost or abandoned technology, not evidence against mainstream geology. According to Helfinstine and Roth (1994) a “tomographic x-ray” of the hammer, taken by Texas Utilities in 1992, showed no inclusions or irregularities in the head. Curiously, they and Baugh interpreted this as evidence of “advanced metallurgy” from a superior pre-Flood culture, rather than further evidence that it is a relatively modern hammer.
Mackay (1994) stated that “research continues into the unusually shiny transparent layer which surrounded the hammer when it was discovered and why it did not corrode for several months.” However, such statements contradict other creationist comments (Helfinstine and Roth, 1994) that the hammer had a brown (and thus presumably not shiny) surface when first broken from the concretion, and only when scratched was a shiny subsurface revealed.
Lines (1996) noted that the file cut made in the hammer head in 1934 has remained “corrosion-free” in over 60 years, and some creationists have suggested this indicates some unique or mysterious attribute. However, as long a metal object is kept dry and clean, this would not be unexpected, and the bulk of the head already in a somewhat rusted condition would be expected to oxidize somewhat faster than the scratched mark.
In the Bible-Science Newsletter, Walter Lang (1983) stated that Batelle lab technicians “were convinced that the rock itself could not have been formed except where there was a great deal of water and pressure,” and that the “partly coalified” condition of the handle indicated to the technicians that the wood was “under pressure with water and volcanic action.” However, one has to wonder whether these statements come from the technicians or hammer advocates themselves, since 1. Limy concretions are generally thought by geologists to form in calm rather than violent conditions, 2. Very little of the hammer handle is carbonized, and such features can and normally do originate without any “volcanic” action, and 3. No formal report of the Batelle analysis was ever produced (Helfinstine and Roth, 1994). Moreover, all assertions about Batelle work on the hammer appear to be suspect in view of a leaflet inserted into the February 1985 issue of Creation Ex Nihilo, which stated that all hammer research discussed in their article was privately done, and “all references to inferences that research or reports on the Hammer were done or prepared by Batelle Laboratories are in error.”(Mackay 1985)
Another weak attempt to counter “evolutionist” skepticism toward Baugh’s hammer claims was a comment by Mackay that “If it had been dropped under present atmospheric conditions and had to lie waiting to be buried, it would have lasted no longer than five years, after being buried.” However, the hammer need not “lie waiting” very long before being buried; it could have fallen into an area where it would be soon if not immediately subject to a sediment solution. Once buried, it would be largely protected from decay in either the mainstream scenario or his own.
During a June 2006 talk at his Creation Evidence Musuem, Baugh again left the impression that the hammer was found embedded in a Cretaceous formation–telling the audience that it was found “in Cretaceous strata”– and again failing to clarify that the hammer and nudule combination was found loose rather than in situ. As recently as September 2008 Baugh supporter Ian Juby encouraged the same unfounded notions on his web site, implying that it was known to be from Cretaceous rock (Juby, 2008).
Perhaps the most bizarre claim about the hammer was Baugh’s statement that “Both the wooden handle and metal shaft were completely encased in the sandstone, indicating that man was not around to make the artefact [sic] before the sandstone encased it.”(Baugh, 1987). Besides contradicting other accounts that the hammer was partly exposed when found, Baugh fails to explain how the hammer could have been made in the first place if “man was not around…before the sandstone encased it.”
As with all extraordinary claims, the burden of proof is on those making the claims, not on those questioning them. Despite some creationist assertions that the hammer is a dramatic pre-Flood relic, no clear evidence linking the hammer to any ancient formation has been presented. Moreover, the hammer’s artistic style and the condition of the handle suggest a historically recent age. It may well have been dropped by a local worker within the last few hundred years, after which dissolved sediment hardened into a concretion around it. Unless Baugh or others can provide rigorous evidence that the hammer was once naturally situated in a pre-Quaternary stratum, it remains merely a curiosity, not a reliable out-of-place artifact.
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