Paleobotanical Anomalies Bearing on the Age of the Salt Range Formation
A Historical Survey of an Unresolved Scientific Controversy
For Presentation at XXI International Congress of History of Science, Mexico
City, July 8-14, 2001
by Michael A. Cremo, Research Associate in History and Philosophy of Science,
Bhaktivedanta Institute, 9701 Venice Blvd. Suite 5, Los Angeles, CA 90034,
USA. Phone (310) 837-5283, Fax (310) 837-1056, E-mail email@example.com
The age of the Salt Range Formation in the Salt Range Mountains of Pakistan
was a matter of extreme controversy among geologists from the middle nineteenth
century to the middle twentieth century. Of great importance in the later
discussions were fragments of advanced plants and insects discovered in the
Salt Range Formation by researchers such as B. Sahni. According to Sahni,
these finds indicated an Eocene age for the Salt Range Formation. But geological
evidence cited by others was opposed to this conclusion, supporting instead
a Cambrian age for the Salt Range formation. Modern geological opinion is
unanimous that the Salt Range Formation is Cambrian. But Sahni's evidence
for advanced plant and insect remains in the Salt Range Formation is not easily
dismissed. It would appear that there is still a contradiction between the
geological and paleontological evidence, just as there was during the time
of active controversy. During the time of active controversy, E. R. Gee suggested
that the conflict might be resolved by positing the existence of an advanced
flora and fauna in the Cambrian. This idea was summarily dismissed at the
time, but, although it challenges accepted ideas about the evolution of life
on earth, it appears to provide the best fit with the different lines of
evidence. The existence of advanced plant and animal life during the Cambrian
is consistent with accounts found in the Puranic literature of India.
For well over a century the Salt Range Mountains of Pakistan have attracted
the special attention of geologists. Starting in the foothills of the Himalayas
in northeastern Pakistan, the Salt Range Mountains run about 150 miles in
a westerly direction, roughly parallel to the Jhelum river until it joins
the Indus. The Salt Range Mountains then extend some distance beyond the Indus.
The southern edge of the eastern Salt Range Mountains drops steeply two or
three thousand feet to the Jhelum River plain. In this escarpment and other
locations, the Salt Range Mountains expose a series of formations ranging
from the earliest Cambrian to the most recent geological periods. Such exposures
are rarely encountered and are thus of great interest to geologists and other
earth scientists. At the bottom of the series, beneath the Cambrian Purple
Sandstone, lies the Salt Range Formation, composed of thick layers of reddish,
clayey material (the Salt Marl) in which are found layers of rock salt, gypsum,
shale, and dolomite. For centuries, the salt has been mined and traded widely
in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. Ever since professional
geologists began studying the Salt Range Mountains in the middle part of
the nineteenth century, the age of the Salt Range Formation has been a topic
of extreme controversy. Some held that it was of early Cambrian antiquity,
while others were certain the Salt Range Formation was far more recent. The
controversy intensified in the twentieth century when scientists discovered
remains of advanced plants in the Salt Range Formation. In this paper, I
shall review the history of the controversy, focusing on its paleobotanical
aspect, and then comment on the controversy's importance to historical studies
of science and to the study of science and religion.
The History of the Controversy
Scientific investigation of the Salt Range Formation began in the nineteenth
century, when Pakistan was part of British India. The Cambrian age of the
overlying Purple Sandstone, which contains trilobites, was generally undisputed.
But there were various opinions about the age and origin of the Salt Range
Formation, usually found beneath the Purple Sandstone. Questions also arose
about the relative ages of the Salt Range Formation and the Kohat salt deposits,
located to the north of the Salt Range Mountains.
A. B. Wynne (1878, p. 83) surveyed the Salt Range Mountains in 1869-71 and
concluded that the Salt Range Formation was a normal sedimentary deposit of
Paleozoic age. This view was shared by H. Warth, who had extensive knowledge
of the region gathered over twenty years (Wynne 1878, p. 73). Wynne and Warth
thought the Kohat salt formations were younger, perhaps Tertiary (Wynne 1875,
pp.32-37). These views were shared by W. T. Blanford (Medlicott and Blanford
1879 v. 2, p. 488).
Later, C. S. Middlemiss of the Geological Survey of India (1891, p. 42)
proposed that the Salt Marl was not a sedimentary formation. It was
instead a secretion from an underlying layer of magma that had intruded beneath
the Cambrian Purple Sandstone. R. D. Oldham (1893, p. 112), superintendent
of the Geological Survey of India, came to a similar conclusion. This opened
up the possiblity that the Salt Range Formation was younger than the overlying
Cambrian Purple Sandstone.
The German geologist F. Noetling originally thought the Salt Range Formation
was Precambrian (Zuber 1914, p. 334). But in a paper published in 1903 (Koken
and Noetling, p. 35), Noetling assigned said the Cambrian Purple Sandstone
was the oldest formation in the Salt Range Mountains and assigned the underlying
Salt Range Formation a much more recent age, without explicit explanation.
Holland (1903, p. 26) reported that Noetling believed that the Cambrian Purple
Sandstone and other overlying formations had been pushed over the Salt Range
Formation by a massive overthrust. According to this idea, the Salt Range
Formation was a normal deposit, the same age as the Eocene salt deposits of
the Kohat region, just north of the Salt Range Mountains. This overthrust
version was accepted by Zuber (1914).
W. Christie (1914), chemist for the Geological Survey of India, held that
the Salt Range Formation was not of igneous origin, as proposed by Middlemiss.
He found it to be a normal sedimentary deposit, produced by evaporation of
seawater, but he did not say when this occurred.
Murray Stuart (1919) agreed with Christie that the Salt Range Formation
was a normal sedimentary deposit. According to Stuart, both the salt
deposits in the Salt Range and Kohat regions were both of early Cambrian
or Precambrian age. In the Kohat region, the salt lies directly below the
“nummulitic” limestones, from the Eocene. Stuart explained this by proposing
that an overthrust had removed the Paleozoic and Mesozoic layers, which are
found overlying the Salt Range Formation 20 miles away.
In 1920, E. H. Pascoe, in considering all the previous reports, came up
with his own conclusion. The Salt Range Formation was a normal sedimentary
deposit, of Tertiary (Eocene) age, as was the Kohat salt deposit. Pascoe
also believed the Purple Sandstone overlying the Salt Range Formation to
be Eocene. The position of the Salt Range Formation and the Purple Sandstone
below other formations of Cambrian antiquity was attributed to a massive
Robert Van Vleck Anderson (1927) gave the first report of botanical
fossil remains from the Salt Range Formation. He noted the presence of "poorly
preserved impressions of leaves of a Tertiary or, at earliest, Mesozoic type."
The impressions came from shale deposits at Khewra Gorge in the Salt Range.
He gave samples to Dr. Ralph W. Chaney of the Carnegie Institution, who said:
"This specimen clearly contains fragments of several specimens of dicotyledonous
leaves. This places their age as not older than the Lower Cretaceous when
the first dicots appeared. One of the leaves is very probably oak (Quercus)
and its size and margin strongly suggest the Oligocene species Quercus clarnensis
from western America. It is of interest to note that I found a closely related
species in the Oligocene deposits of Manchuria. Your specimen is almost certainly
of Tertiary age." (Anderson 1927, p. 672) From this evidence, Anderson argued
for a Tertiary age for the Salt Range Formation as well as the Kohat Salt.
The presence of Cambrian layers above the Salt Range Formation was attributed
by him to an overthrust.
In 1928, Cyril S. Fox published a study concluding that both the Salt Range
and Kohat salt deposits were early Cambrian or Precambrian. He saw no signs
of an overthrust. He did not mention Anderson's discoveries.
In his presidential address to the geology section of the Eighteenth Indian
Science Congress, G. Cotter (1931, p. 296) disputed Anderson's report of leaf
impressions found in the Salt Range Formation. He noted the E. R. Gee had
searched the same locality in January 1929 and found no new specimens. Cotter
joined Gee for another search in March 1929 and also found no new specimens.
Cotter noted that they found "carbonaceous markings, some of which simulated
broad leaf impressions." But they were in his opinion "not plant fossils."
Anderson then sent to the Geological Survey of India office his best Quercus
specimen. Cotter considered it "doubtful." But Pascoe (1930, p. 25) said that
the specimen had perhaps been damaged by friction during transit, making it
"undeterminable." Pascoe expressed a hope that the specimen had been photographed
before it was shipped, but there is no record of such a photograph in Anderson's
reports. Some of Anderson's specimens were sent to Professor B. Sahni at Oxford,
who, according to Cotter, thought that "the specimens, if they were plants
at all, were quite indeterminate."
Cotter (1931, p. 299) also made this interesting observation: "About the
year 1924 a large trunk of wood of a modern type and scarcely at all decomposed
was found in the salt in the upper tunnel of the Khewra mine. Dr. Dunn, who
examined this wood states that the trunk was about 2 ft. in diameter, and
that there were several branches associated with it of about 3 to 4 inches
in diameter. Prof. Sahni regarded this wood as modern and resembling an Acacia
now found growing in the Salt Range."
Cotter, after considering all arguments pro and con, said he favored a pre-Cambrian
age for the Salt Range Formation (1931, p. 300). But before his paper expressing
this view went to press, Cotter examined occurences of nummulites, fossil
formanifera typical of the Tertiary, discovered by E. R. Gee in the salt marl
at Khewra. Cotter, who had originally thought they had been washed into the
Salt Range Formation from younger deposits, decided they were native to the
Salt Range Formation. In a footnote added to his paper before publication,
Cotter (1931, p. 300) reversed the position stated in the paper and declared
the Salt Range Formation to be Tertiary. But he regarded it as intrusive,
which would explain its position beneath the Cambrian Purple Sandstone. According
to Cotter (1933, p. 151), the plastic salt, of Eocene age, was somehow squeezed
by geological pressure and other forces into an abnormal positon.
Cotter (1933, p. 150) said that the Khewra nummulites discovered by Gee
"occurred in association with plant fragments." He further noted (Cotter
1933, pp. 150-151) that "plant fragments were also found by Mr. Gee in the
Salt Marl at the Nila Wahan." Pascoe (1959, p. 569) cites a 1933 report that
at Kalra Wahan, a sample of salt marl "yielded not only carbonised stem fragments
but also several small leaves of apparently dicotyledenous type." Pascoe (1930,
p. 132) also noted that Gee found a small piece of fossil wood in the reddish
marls of the Salt Range Formation.
Gee (1934) gave his own opinion about the age of the Salt Range Formation,
which he called "the Saline series." He concluded that both it and the Kohat
salt deposits were of the same Eocene age. The Kohat salt was in its normal
positiion, but Gee (1934, p. 461) noted that "a very regular thrust of immense
dimensions must be postulated in order to explain the present position of
the Saline series beneath the early Paleozoics (or pre-Cambrian)." Concerning
foraminifera found by him in Salt Range Formation deposits, he admitted that
they might be derived from more recent formations (Gee 1934, p. 463; Fermor
1935, p. 64). But Gee (1934, p. 463) noted, "Plant fragments, however, have
been found not only in beds of doubtful age but also in beds which are regarded
as being definitely in situ in the Saline series." He regarded this as evidence
the Salt Range Formation was not Cambrian.
Some years later, B. Sahni, then a paleobotanist at the University of Lucknow,
reported the existence of numerous plant microfossils in samples taken from
the Salt Range Formation at the Khewra and Warcha salt mines. Previously,
doubt had been cast on plant fossils from the Salt Range Formation. Critics,
said Sahni (1944, p. 462), had pointed out that "in such a highly soluble
and plastic substance as the Salt Marl, extraneous material might have penetrated
through solution holes or have been enveloped during relatively modern earth
But deep within the mines, Sahni found deposits where such objections could
not apply. The salt in these places ran in layers separated by thin layers
of saline earth, locally called "kallar." Sahni (1944, p. 462) noted that
"the kallar lies closely interlaminated with the salt, in beds which run continuously
for long distances and which, although visibly tilted, show no other visible
signs of disturbance."
According to Sahni, the salt layers accumulated from evaporation of sea
water in coastal lagoons, whereas the kallar represented dust and dirt blown
on to the drying salt by the wind. Sahni guessed that the kallar might contain
pollen and other plant microfossils. When he examined specimens, he found
this to be so (Sahni 1944, p. 462): ". . . every single piece has yielded
microfossils. . . . The great majority are undeterminable as to genus and
species, being mainly shreds of angiosperm wood, but there are also gymnosperm
tracheids with large round bordered pits, and at least one good, winged, six-legged
insect with compound eyes." To Sahni, this meant that the Salt Range Formation
must be Eocene rather than Cambrian. Sahni later found plant fragments not
only in the kallar, but in associated solid rock layers composed of dolomite
Around this same time, the Geological Survey of India and an oil company
sent a team of geologists to carefully study the Salt Range Formation, and
on the basis of their field observations they concluded that it was in normal
position below the Cambrian Purple Sandstone and was thus Cambrian in age.
This conclusion was announced in a letter to Nature (Coates et al. 1945).
Among the geologists signing the letter was Gee, until recently an advocate
of an Eocene age for the Salt Range Formation. The geologists admitted, however,
that "our conclusions were arrived at despite certain difficulties, such as
the occurrence of minute plant fragments of post-Cambrian age in the dolomites
and oil shales, for which we have at present no clear explanation to offer."
In other words, it might be possible to explain the presence of plant fragments
in the soluble salt layers, but how did they get into solid rock such as dolomite
and shale? This line of reasoning is based on the assumption that land plants
did not come into being until the Silurian, with advanced plants such as
angiosperms not arising until the Cretaceous.
In his presidential address to India's National Academy of Sciences in 1944,
Sahni (1945) introduced numerous examples of pollen, wood fragments, and insect
parts found in samples of kallar, dolomite, and shale from the Salt Range
Formation. In his report, Sahni (1945, p. x) said that "stringent precautions"
were taken to prevent contamination of the samples with modern organic remains.
He also emphasized that samples were taken from locations where the geological
evidence ruled out intrusion from younger strata.
The laboratory techniques employed by Sahni and his assistant, B. S. Trivedi,
were rigorous. In a demonstration at a symposium, said Sahni (1945, p. xiv)
"a piece of carbonised wood was revealed in a tiny block of dolomite . . .
which had been cut and polished on all sides to show it had no pits or cracks
visible even with a strong pocket lens. The block was, as usual, passed through
a flame and then plunged into a jar of filtered dilute HCl."
In his own address to the National Academy of Sciences, Gee (1945, p. 293)
concluded that the Salt Range Formation was a normal sedimentary deposit and
in its original position below the Purple Sandstone. This meant it was Cambrian
or Precambrian (Gee 1945, p. 305), while Kohat salt was Eocene. This was
a change from his earlier opinion that the Salt Range Formation was Eocene
(Gee 1934). He saw no compelling evidence for a massive overthrust in the
region (Gee 1945, p. 305). Pascoe, formerly a supporter of the idea that
the Salt Range Formation was an Eocene deposit covered by an overthrust, placed
the Salt Range Formation in the Cambrian section of a new edition of his
Manual of the Geology of India (Sahni 1947b, p. xxxi).
Gee said that foraminifera of Eocene type found by him in the Salt Range
Formation were not in situ, as he earlier believed, but were derived from
younger formations. Concerning plant fragments, Gee (1945, p. 296) noted:
"Further work on the clay containing plant fragments at Katha led to the discovery
of one or two small leaf impressions which were identified by Prof. B. Sahni
as belonging to Acacia, a genus still existing in the Salt Range area, whilst
in the case of the Khewra mine occurrences, the existence of an important
thrust-fault nearby, running roughly parallel to the seams of rocksalt, indicated
an alternative explanation for the occurrence of these plant fragments."
Gee thought they might have been introduced into the salt in relatively recent
Concerning the Katha finds, Gee relies on the assumption that Acacia is
quite recent, and could not possibly have existed in the Cambrian. Concerning
the Khewra finds, Gee uses the existence of a fault to explain the presence
of advanced plants in a formation he regarded as Cambrian. But he does not
explain how close the thrust fault was to the exact places where he recovered
plant fragments nor whether the stratification showed any obvious signs of
local disturbance. The fact that the salt was still arranged in seams, apparently
unbroken, leaves open the possibility that the plant fragments were found
Gee (1945, p. 297) found Anderson's leaf impressions unconvincing, calling
them "unidentifiable brownish markings, possibly organic." Gee (1945, p. 299)
saw signs of organic deposits in the shales and dolomites of the Salt Range
Formation, but characterized them as "too primitive to include resistant skeletons
or woody tissues such as might be preserved."
Gee was, however, seriously troubled by the discoveries of Sahni, which
were based on careful observation and laboratory work. Apparently, Sahni
had demonstrated the existence of advanced plant remains, including woody
tissues, not only in the salt and dolomites of the Salt Range Formation but
in other kinds of rock as well, such as shale. About the salt and dolomites.
Gee proposed that plant fragments could have been introduced into them by
"percolating water." But this explanation would not, said Gee (1945, p. 307)
apply to the extremely resistant oil shales, in which Sahni had also found
microfossils. Gee (1945, p. 306) noted that if Sahni, on the basis of his
plant fossils, was correct in assigning an Eocene age to the Salt Range Formation,
"then it will be necessary to modify our views regarding the essential characteristics
of normal sedimentary and tectonic contacts." According to standard geological
reasoning these indicated a Cambian age.
At the Indian National Academy of Sciences annual meeting for 1945, the
Salt Range Formation was once more a topic of extended debate. Sahni (1947a,
1947b) gave reports of additional discoveries of angiosperm and gymnosperm
microfossils from the salt marl, the oil shales, and dolomites at all levels
of the Salt Range Formation. Microfossils of advanced plants were also recovered
from core samples from deep borings in the Khewra salt mine. Sahni (1947b,
pp. xxxi-xxxvi) gave convincing evidence that the microfossils were not intrusive
contaminations. Furthermore, at scientific gatherings in Great Britain, Sahni
(1947b, p. xxxix) demonstrated to geologists his laboratory techniques and
obtained "fragments of woody tissue" from samples of the Salt Range Formations's
dolomites and oil shales.
Sahni (1947a, p. 243) added that "in a fragment of Mr. Anderson's original
material several microfragments of wood have been found." This would tend
to support Anderson's identification of leaf imprints in his material from
Khewra Gorge. Sahni had accompanied Gee and others to Anderson's site, and
had found no similar specimens. Sahni (1947b, p. xx) noted that these circumstances
"do not by any means cast a doubt upon the identification of Mr. Anderson's
specimen as an oak leaf." Sahni (1947b, p. xx) also noted: "As it turned out,
we had been searching at the wrong place." Anderson's oak leaf imprint had
come from a spot lower than that searched, and some distance away.
Concerning the advanced nature of the plant and insect microfossils found
in the Salt Range Formation, Sahni (1947b, pp. xlv-xlvi) noted: "Quite recently,
an alternative explanation has been offered by Mr. Gee. The suggestion is
that the angiosperms, gymnosperms and insects of the Saline Series may represent
a highly evolved Cambrian or Precambrian flora and fauna! In other words,
it is suggested that these plants and animals made their appearance in the
Salt Range area several hundred million years earlier than they did anywhere
else in the world. One would scarcely have believed that such an idea would
be seriously put forward by any geologist today."
Gee, by questioning basic evolutionary assumptions about the progression
of life forms on earth, introduces another possible solution to the Salt Range
Formation controversy. Up to this point, the relatively late appearance of
the angiosperms, gymnosperms, and certain insects had been taken for granted.
Evidence of their presence in the Salt Range Formation had to be resolved
by (1) suggesting they were intrusive into the formation, which was of Cambrian
age or (2) suggesting that they were native to the formation proving it was
Eocene and invoking a massive overthrust to account for the formation's presence
below formations generally accepted as Cambrian. Supporters of the former
proposal, including Gee, were troubled, however, by the strength of Sahni's
evidence for the in situ status of his microfossils. So Gee suggested that
perhaps the Salt Range Formation is, after all, Cambrian, as the geological
evidence strongly suggested, and the microfossils of angiosperms, gymnosperms,and
insects were in situ. This could only mean that the angiosperms, gymnosperms,
and insects evolved far earlier than allowed by any current evolutionary account.
It was a bold proposal, but fell on deaf ears at the time.
Subsequently, evidence for angiosperms and gymnosperms was also found in
other beds of Cambrian age overlying the Salt Range Formation. These included
microfossils of angiosperms and gymnosperms from the Salt Pseudomorph Beds
(Ghosh and Bose, 1947), gymnosperms from the Purple Sandstone (Ghosh, et al.,
1948), wood fragments from the Neobolus Shales (Ghosh, et al., 1948), and
wood fragments from the Magnesian Sandstone (Ghosh, et al., 1948).
Ghosh and Bose (1950, p. 76) proposed two possible explanations for this
evidence of advanced vascular plants in the above-mentioned formations: "1.
The geologically known Cambrian beds are of post-Cambrian age. 2. The vascular
plants existed in Cambrian or pre-Cambrian times." Ghosh and Bose rejected
the first proposal because geologists unanimously agreed that the beds in
question were in fact Cambrian. Ghosh and Bose found the second proposal more
likely, even though it was "inconsistent with the prevailing concepts of
plant phylogeny." They pointed out that there had been discoveries of advanced
plant remains in beds of similar age in Sweden (Darrah 1937) and in the USSR
(Sahni 1947b, in note following plates).
Ghosh and Bose (1947) reconfirmed the original discoveries by Sahni and
his coworkers of advanced plant remains in the Salt Range Formation itself.
They also found fragments of advanced plants from a sample of shale from
the Cambrian or pre-Cambrian beds of the Vindhyans of northern India (Ghosh
and Bose 1950b) and from a sample of Cambrian rock from Kashmir (Ghosh and
Bose 1951). In some cases, Ghosh and Bose (1951b, pp. 130-131; 1952, ) found
fragments of advanced plants (coniferous) in Cambrian rock samples that also
contained trilobites. The samples were from the Salt Pseudomorph beds of
the Salt Range and the shales of the Rainwar locality in Kashmir.
Other researchers confirmed the work of Ghosh and his associates (Jacob
et al. 1953), finding evidence for advanced vascular plants, including gymnosperms,
in Cambrian rock samples from the Salt Range and other sites in India. Jacob
and his coworkers also called attention to similar Cambrian paleobotanical
discoveries in Sweden, Estonia, and Russia, as reported by S. N. Naumova,
A. V. Kopeliovitch, A. Reissinger, and W. C. Darrah (Jacob et al. 1953, p.
German researchers (Schindewolf and Seilacher, 1955) took samples of rock
from the Salt Range to Germany, where specialists found no evidence of plant
remains. But in his discussion, Schindewolf mentioned that he personally witnessed
an Indian scientist obtain plant microfossils from a Cambrian Salt Range
rock sample in India. After this, active discussion of the controversy diminished.
It is quite possible that this was the result of the partition of India and
Pakistan. After partition, members of the Geological Survey of India may
not have had such easy access to the Salt Range in the newly independent
Islamic state of Pakistan.
In recent years, petroleum geologists have conducted extensive studies of
the Salt Range region, with no reference or only slight reference to the debates
that took place earlier in the century. Although modern geological reports
acknowledge overthrusts in the Salt Range, they unanimously declare the Salt
Range Formation to be Eocambrian (Yeats et al. 1984, Butler et al. 1987,
Jauné and Lillie 1988, Baker et al. 1988, Pennock et al. 1989, McDougall
and Khan 1990). One paper (Butler et al. 1987, p. 410) mentions discoveries
of wood fragments in the salt deep in the mines at Khewra. The authors propose
these are intrusive, but neglect to discuss the extensive reporting by Sahni
and others ruling out such an explanation for the microfossils discovered
in various kinds of rock from the Salt Range Formation.
In the early stages of the debates about the nature and age of the Salt
Range Formation, fossil evidence did not play a major role. Geological considerations
dominated the discussion. With the introduction of paleobotanical evidence
by Sahni and others in the 1930s and 1940s, the Salt Range controversy became
interesting from a paleontological perspective. Sahni, along with his coworkers
and supporters, believed that microfossils of advanced plants and insects,
along with a few plant macrofossils (pieces of wood and leaf imprints), indicated
an Eocene age for the Salt Range formation. They explained the presence of
the Salt Range Formation below undisputed Cambrian beds (the Purple Sandstone,
the Neobolus beds, the Magnesian Sandstone, and the Salt Pseudomorph Beds)
as the result of a massive overthrust.
Advocates of a Cambrian age for the Salt Range Formation challenged Sahni's
conclusions on two fronts.
First, they argued that the plant and insect fossils must have been intrusive.
But even these opponents acknowledged it would be difficult to explain how
such fossils could have intruded into resistant rock such as the oil shales
found in the Salt Range Formation. Overall, it seems there is fairly good
evidence for the presence of microfossils and even some macrofossils in the
Salt Range Formation. Sahni and his coworkers presented good arguments against
possible contamination of their rock samples, either in situ or in the laboratory.
Second, the advocates of a Cambrian age for the Salt Range Formation argued
against Sahni's hypothesis of a massive overthrust, that covered the Eocene
Salt Range Formation with Cambrian formations. Opponents disputed the overthrust
hypothesis, citing signs of normal contact between the Salt Range Formation
and the overlying beds. Modern geological opinion partly favors Sahni. There
is evidence of thrust faulting in the Salt Range. But modern geological opinion
is also unanimous in assigning the Salt Range Formation to the Eocambrian.
If we stop at this point, the controversy remains unresolved. There still
appears to be a conflict between the geological evidence and the paleobotanical
evidence. The conflict may, however, be resolved if we adopt the approach
taken by Gee, who proposed that an advanced land flora and insect fauna may
have existed in the Cambrian or Precambrian. This, of course, challenges accepted
views on the evolution of life on earth. But it seems to be the most reasonable
way to bring all categories of evidence into harmony.
Support for the existence of advanced vascular plants (including gymnosperms
and and angiosperms) in the earliest Paleozoic is supported by (1) reports
by Ghosh and his coworkers of microfossils of gymnosperms and angiosperms
in the Cambrian beds overlying the Salt Range Formation and in Cambrian beds
elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent; (2) contemporary reports from researchers
in other parts of the world giving evidence for advanced vascular plants in
the Cambrian (see Leclerq 1956 for a review); (3) modern reports placing the
existence of the angiosperms as far back as the Triassic (Cornet 1989, 1993).
According to standard views angiosperms originated in the Cretaceous. Cornet's
work places them in the Triassic, providing a step between the standard view
of a Cretaceous origin for the angiosperms and Sahni's evidence showing an
angiosperm presence in the Cambrian. According to standard views, the gymnosperms
originated in the Devonian, and the first land plants appeared in the mid-Silurian.
Furthermore, a review of scientifically reported evidence related to human
origins and antiquity has revealed signs of a human presence on this planet
extending back hundreds of millions of years, at least as far back as the
Cambrian (Cremo and Thompson, 1993). Appreciation of the existence, extent,
and significance of this body of evidence is hampered by uncritical acceptance
of current evolutionary conceptions about the origin and development of life.
In their review of Cremo and Thompson's work, in Social Studies of Science,
J. Wodak and D. Oldroyd (1995, p. 207) said it is important for two reasons.
First, it treats many incidents in the history of archeology in much greater
depth than previously. And, second, it raises important issues regarding scientific
truth claims. Wodak and Oldroyd advised evolutionists to be more cautious
in their claims that evolution is an absolute fact. In any case, the book
by Cremo and Thompson (Forbidden Archeology) did succeed in bringing about
serious discussion of the evidential foundations and certainty of truth claims
for human evolution. This present paper is an attempt to initiate similar
discussion in plant evolution. It would thus appear that historical studies
of science may have a role to play in the active work of a scientific discipline.
In my introduction to Forbidden Archeology, I acknowledged that the authors
were inspired and motivated by their commitment to Vedic and Puranic accounts
of the origin and development of life. This attracted the attention of several
reviewers (for example, Wodak and Oldroyd 1995, Murray 1995, and Feder 1994).
This paper is similarly inspired and motivated. According to Vedic and Puranic
accounts, the earth passes through phases of manifestation and devastation
known as kalpas, or days of Brahma. Each day of Brahma is 4.32 billion years
long. During the day, life is manifest on earth. At the end of each day of
Brahma, there is a devastation, during which the earth is submerged in cosmic
waters. The period of devastation is called a night of Brahma, and is of the
same length as a day of Brahma. At the end of the night of Brahma, the earth
emerges from the waters of devastation, and life again becomes manifest. Each
day of Brahma consists of 14 manvantara periods, each composed of 71 yuga
cycles, each yuga cycle lasting 4.32 million years. According to Puranic accounts,
we are now in the 28th yuga cycle of the 7th manvatara period of the current
day of Brahma. In other words, we are roughly 2 billion years into the current
day of Brahma. Before that, there would be 4.32 billion years of devastation,
with the earth submerged in cosmic waters. According to current accounts,
the earth formed about 4 billion years ago (within the latter part of the
last night of Brahma), and life first appeared about 2 billion years ago
(during the first part of the current day of Brahma). This is an interesting
temporal parallel between the modern scientific and ancient Puranic cosmologies.
But in Puranic accounts, we also find evidence of humans, plants, and animals
existing in the first manvantara period of the current day of Brahma. The
evidence reported in this paper, in my book Forbidden Archeology (Cremo and
Thompson, 1993), and in a paper presented at the World Archeological Congress
(Cremo 1995) are consistent with the Puranic view.
Paleobotanical and geological evidence from the Salt Range in Pakistan suggests
that advanced plants, including gymnosperms and angiosperms, as well as insects,
existed in the early Cambrian, consistent with historical accounts in the
Puranas. When considered in relation to extensive evidence for an anatomically
modern human presence extending back to the same period, the evidence from
the Salt Range suggests the need for a complete reevaluation of current ideas
about the evolution of life on this planet. One possible outcome of this reevaluation
could be the abandonment of the Darwinian evolutionary hypothesis in favor
of a model for life's origin and development drawn from the Vedic and Puranic
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