Australia may be full of many wonders, but the Pilbara region definitely stands out among them all. This area in Western Australia is not only packed with unusual and one-off wildlife and greenery, but it’s also home to a whole host of astonishing geological features. The eye-catching rock formations in the Pilbara have even given scientists crucial insights into the beginning of the world. And, incredibly, one of those discoveries suggests there’s some scientific basis for the events mentioned in the biblical Book of Genesis.
Sprawling over more than 193,000 square miles, the Pilbara region is double the area of the entire United Kingdom and as big as the northeastern United States. And given the sheer size of the landscape, it’s perhaps no surprise that environments there are varied, ranging from dry and desert-like to tropical.
But there’s something for everyone in the region – from beautiful sandy beaches and secluded islets to rocky gorges, plunge pools and mountains. And the incredible natural wonders don’t end there. Rare animals such as the Pilbara leaf-nosed bat and the olive python are also to be found in this part of the world.
There’s also a more than 30,000-year history of human habitation in the Pilbara, with its one million rock carvings all acting as evidence that ancient peoples once lived and thrived there. Given the remarkable flora and fauna in the area, though, you may be surprised to learn that the Pilbara is also seen as “the engine room of Australia.”
How did the region earn that moniker? Well, it appears that the landscape is bursting with natural resources – some of which are typically used within industry. Mining operations have found iron ore, natural gas, gold and base metals, for example, among the rocks there.
Yet the history of mining in the Pilbara goes back just a few decades, to the 1960s. And there has been extraction in particular of iron ore, with some six million tons of the metal having been found in the region. In 2014 the Pilbara was said to be responsible for an amazing 95 percent of Australia’s iron ore production, in fact.
Owing in part to this extraction work, the Pilbara is home to around 60,000 inhabitants – most of whom live in the western third of the region. Many of the various mines, towns and commercial districts are also located in the vicinity. And while this era of human habitation is essentially modern – even industrial – the area has an ancient history that we’re still discovering today.
Indeed, while humans may have lived in the Pilbara for tens of thousands of years, the region itself has existed for far longer than that. And it not only plays home to some of the first rocks to have formed on the planet, but also fossils from the earliest lifeforms. These relics from a bygone age include remnants of sulfur-eating bacteria and stromatolites created by tiny microbes. But the location’s unique features certainly don’t end there.
You see, the Pilbara has a remarkably uncommon geological makeup. Rock formations such as those found in Western Australia are only seen in one other place on Earth: South Africa. And these incredibly rare arrangements actually date back to a time before tectonic plates began to create landforms in the way we see today. This makes areas of the rock here billions of years old.
Before we move on, though, let’s have a quick chat about plate tectonics. Essentially, movement of the enormous plates that glide across the Earth’s surface can create new landforms – either as the result of causing volcanic lava flow or by pushing rock upward when the plates crash into each other. Yet the Pilbara predates even this incredibly old process.
The formation of the Pilbara goes all the way back to the early days of Earth, in fact. At the time, the planet was incredibly hot, with temperatures high enough to melt rock. It’s thought that molten basalt and granite then sank and rose over the course of millions of years, with this process leaving a distinct mark on the region’s landscape.
When seen from above, the area is now dotted with telltale domes of rock – leftovers from that ancient activity. These mounds somehow survived the later tectonic plate movements and survive to this day. And as a result, a number of rocks in the Pilbara region have been dated to over three billion years old.
Understandably, these age-old rock formations have proved popular among geologists and scientists. In particular, they’re of use for those trying to understand exactly when and how plate tectonics began shaping landforms. The theory of gravitational overturn in the Pilbara even came about as a result of research in the region.
But there are certainly other findings to be made about the Pilbara. For instance, in March 2020 University of Colorado Boulder researchers Benjamin Johnson and Boswell Wing published a study in the journal Natural Geoscience that detailed some of their work in the region. And during the course of the duo’s investigations, they discovered some very interesting things indeed.
More specifically, Johnson and Wing decided to analyze the chemical composition of the ancient rock of the Pilbara, looking in depth at the levels of the isotopes oxygen-18 and oxygen-16 there. These elements can, it appears, tell us a lot about the formation of landmass.
The isotopes actually become trapped in the rock at the time of its formation, and their differing levels may give clues as to what the surrounding environment was like when that rock was created. For instance, lower amounts of oxygen-18 are a telltale sign that a landmass had appeared. Explaining this further, Wing was quoted in a March 2020 Daily Express article as saying, “When you form a soil, you form clays, and clays hoover up heavy oxygen.”
Soil and clay, of course, form on the ground, and therefore low levels of the heavier oxygen-18 can indicate the presence of land. Wing went on, “What you can tell from that is how much soil formation was going on.” So, given how old the Pilbara rocks are, the pair decided to test samples from the area for the two oxygen isotopes. And the results of this investigation may well surprise you.
In total, Wing and Johnson analyzed over 100 rock samples from the Panorama region of the Pilbara. But while tests for levels of oxygen-18 and oxygen-16 should have revealed steady, consistent levels of these isotopes throughout the ages, these processes ultimately indicated something entirely different. And what the researchers discovered had implications not just for our understanding of the early Earth, but also of more heavenly considerations.
After looking at the samples, you see, Wing and Johnson discovered that oxygen-18 isotopes existed at higher than expected levels in the Pilbara rocks. Why is this significant? Well, although the heavy compound is usually hoovered up by soil and clay-rich environments, that doesn’t appear to have happened in this area.
And while Wing and Johnson have admitted that the disparity between expected and actual levels of oxygen-18 is very tiny, it is still significant. In a March 2020 report by Sci-News.com, Wing is quoted as saying, “Though these mass differences seem small, the [isotopes] are super-sensitive.” Faced with these unusual levels, the researchers then came to a unique conclusion.
Johnson and Wing theorized that these higher oxygen-18 levels suggested no continents had existed at the time the isotope was trapped over three billion years ago. This subsequently led them to assume that the world, without any landmass, was covered in an enormous ocean – meaning the Pilbara, in turn, was once an ancient ocean bed.
And the evidence seemed to fit. Some of the examples of early life found in the Pilbara region are water-based, after all, while much of the landscape bears the scars of flowing liquid. “Today, there are these really scrubby and rolling hills that are cut through by dry river beds. It’s a crazy place,” Johnson said of the area, according to a March 2020 article by The Independent.
Of course, the possibility of a world covered in water has implications not only for geologists, but also for theologians. And while those two groups may sound like curious bedfellows, they do actually have a few things in common. Both share an interest in the mechanics of the beginning of the world, for instance.
For scientists, of course, the Big Bang and the evolution of the solar system are key. Theologians, on the other hand, are more typically concerned with the divine creation of Earth and everything on it – a process that is described in the Book of Genesis.
The Book of Genesis opens both the Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible. And, famously, it recounts a version of what is claimed to be the beginning of the world, which God apparently created in six days. Some aspects of the tale even seem to mirror Johnson and Wing’s theory.
In particular, Genesis states, “And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so.” The suggestion here is that at some point during the six-day creation period, Earth was covered in water – with no land in sight.
And this idea that the young planet contained nothing but water appears to parallel Johnson and Wing’s research. If their theories are correct, then, the Book of Genesis may actually have some basis in fact. Yet there is one small problem with the Bible-mirroring-life theory.
According to the Book of Genesis, God creates the oceans and the land in around three days. For many biblical scholars, this event took place around 6,000 years ago. But, of course, the scientists studying the Pilbara have dated the rocks there to approximately 3.2 billion years ago – which makes for quite the disparity in time periods.
Still, there are those who don’t see this difference as anything to worry about. Indeed, some so-called Old Earth creationists believe that there’s a perfectly good explanation for this not-inconsiderable discrepancy. It’s all to do with the translation of the Hebrew word yom, meaning, among other things, “day.” Many readings of Genesis verses take that as a literal 24-hour time period.
By contrast, a number of Old Earth creationists translate the word to mean a time period with a definite duration – not necessarily a 24-hour cycle. This interpretation of yom does have precedent in Hebrew, but in this instance, members of the group have taken its definition a little further. And by a little, we mean so much further…
For Old Earth Creationists, you see, a biblical day can last up to billions of years. This means that the time period in which God created the land could have lasted epochs. And given that we still don’t really know how, why or exactly when plate tectonics created the continents, it’s easy to see why this explanation appears so attractive to some. If it’s true, then the Bible may well describe the actual creation of the planet.
However, many geologists are excited by the findings for many different reasons. According to the Daily Express, Wing has said, “[These findings are] at the limit of the geological record. That’s why old rocks and the ancient Earth [are] so fun.” And there’s potential for the Pilbara rocks to teach us even more.
Wing was quoted by Sci-News.com as saying, “Our findings could help scientists to better understand how and where single-cell organisms first emerged on Earth. The history of life on Earth tracks available niches. If you’ve got a waterworld, a world covered by ocean, then dry niches are just not going to be available.”
So, to understand the journey of life on Earth, we need to discover when the planet finally spawned a landmass. According to Wing, though, his and Johnson’s theory doesn’t entirely rule out land altogether. “There’s nothing in what we’ve done that says you can’t have teeny micro-continents sticking out of the oceans,” he explained.
Wing went on, “We just don’t think that there were global-scale formation of continental soils like we have today.” And now he and Johnson intend to study young rocks all over the world in an attempt to pinpoint the birth of tectonic plates. Indeed, Johnson was quoted by The Independent as saying, “Trying to fill that gap is very important.”
Meanwhile, the Pilbara region itself is about to become part of Western Australia’s future in a big way. While the mining industry there still grows, the government is plowing over a billion dollars of investment into the area. And the plans in place are ambitious.
The authorities intend not only to boost infrastructure, but also the populations of two of the towns in the Pilbara to 50,000 people each. That’s a long way from the 60,000 or so current residents of the Pilbara’s three regions. Yet the ambitions for the historic area don’t end there – and they don’t all include mining, either.
In essence, one of the aims of the project has been to “[transform] Pilbara mining communities into modern cities and towns.” To do that effectively, then, the government intends to concentrate on community projects, land development and economic diversification of the area. And the development of agriculture in the Pilbara seems to mark a move away from mining.
In particular, a multi-million-dollar government investment saw abandoned mines being repurposed into new farmland. Land purchased around old operations has been used for growing animal fodder, making use of the excess water used in ore extraction. To date, three schemes of this type have been funded in the area.
But those moving to the Pilbara over the next few years may well have no idea that they’re so close to some of the world’s oldest features. And while Johnson and Wing continue to search for answers, the region will always offer a window into a time before life as we know it took hold of the planet – either by way of divine intervention or nature itself.
The Pilbara isn’t the only place on Earth to potentially prove biblical accounts, though. As researchers investigate some of the most far-flung regions of the planet, they’re coming across more details that seem to parallel those found in the holy text. And there are few landmarks as inaccessible – and as remarkable – as Mount Kilimanjaro…
After ice was taken from Mount Kilimanjaro in 2000, scientists set to work analyzing the valuable samples. When they investigated what had been taken from the famous landmark, however, the experts found something entirely unexpected – and completely stunning. You see, the ice doesn’t just tell us a great deal about how our planet has changed over the millennia. It also appears that the fragments could be evidence to support a well-known Bible passage in the Book of Genesis.
That said, ice cores – including those ones from Kilimanjaro – can often shed light on events in human history. Scientists extract the cores by drilling into glaciers and ice sheets around the world – everywhere from the tropics to the polar regions – either by hand or with specialist machinery. And as power-drilled cores can travel to depths in excess of two miles, elements of that ice may have been on the planet for as long as 800,000 years.
But how can these cores tell us so much about the Earth? Well, many ice fields and glaciers have been formed over millennia, and as each layer of ice is added it creates a record of the climate during that time. For example, water may contain preserved bubbles of air that originate from the period in which it froze. And these findings can then be examined in a lab in order to decipher information such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere during a particular era.
In that way, ice cores can provide key information about former climatic conditions on our planet. But that’s not all. In some cases, you see, the cores can also help us to understand events in human history for which there is no credible documentation. And, on occasion, they may be able to prove that fables such as those contained in the Bible actually do have some basis in fact.
Furthermore, as we’ve already mentioned, those ice cores from Mount Kilimanjaro did seem to confirm a story from the Old Testament. We’ll look at the precise details of the discovery in a moment, but first, let’s learn more about Kilimanjaro itself. And this tale takes us back many millions of years – to a time before humans had evolved in Africa.
As some may know, Mount Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro National Park. Geography buffs will tell you, too, that the United Republic of Tanzania – to give the country its proper name – is located on the east coast of the African continent and has borders with eight other nations, including Kenya and Uganda. Tanzania’s 885 miles of coast also overlooks the Indian Ocean.
Kilimanjaro National Park, meanwhile, sits near Tanzania’s northern border with Kenya and covers 652 square miles. And the sprawling land in fact plays home to a group of indigenous people: the Bantu-speaking Chaga, who migrated to the area from about the 11th century onwards. The Chaga’s economy is largely based on agriculture, and their arabica coffee beans are exported around the world.
The Chaga are certainly not alone in the park, however, as the attraction also hosts a wide variety of wildlife – including elephants and leopards. Also living on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro is the tree hyrax – a nocturnal mammal with a bushy coat that is actually a distant relative of the elephant. Blue monkeys, western black and white colobuses and Cape buffaloes have all taken up residence in Kilimanjaro National Park, too.
Mount Kilimanjaro itself, meanwhile, consists of three peaks – all of which have been formed from currently inactive volcanoes. This trio is comprised of Kibo, which has a summit 16,893 feet above sea level; Mawenzi, which rises to 16,893 feet; and Shira, which possesses a summit of 13,140 feet from sea level. Of the three, however, only Kibo could potentially erupt again in the future.
Shira’s life as an active volcano started around two and a half million years ago, with this explosive period lasting for some 600,000 years. Today, though, Shira has a large plateau at around 12,500 feet that is surrounded by the remnants of its caldera – or the lipped edge typical of a volcanic mountain. The caldera has been much reduced over the millennia, too, as the result of erosion.
The volcanic activity from Kibo and Mawenzi, though, was much more recent – taking place about one million years ago. And, as it happens, Mawenzi and Kibo also have a plateau between them – known as the Saddle – at an altitude of about 14,400 feet. All of Kilimanjaro’s rugged peaks also have a range of features, including secondary summits, pinnacles and ridges that have been formed by the eroding action of wind and rain.
The environment around the dormant volcano is pretty verdant to boot. About 1,000 square miles of the land around the mountains are forested, although the Kilimanjaro foothills are cultivated by local farmers. There, they harvest a selection of crops, including beans, sunflowers, maize and wheat. The coffee mentioned earlier grows a little higher up the slopes, however, at an altitude of around 3,000 to 6,000 feet.
As for the highest of the three Kilimanjaro peaks? Well, it appears that Kibo last erupted between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. Evidence for this comes in the form of fumaroles – breaches in the rock surface that still give off gases. Kibo’s caldera, meanwhile, is a little over one and a half miles across and includes the Reusch Crater. This feature was named after mountaineer Gustav Reusch on the occasion of his 25th climb to the mountain’s summit.
Of course, for East African people, Mount Kilimanjaro has been a familiar landmark for thousands of years. But it was only as recently as 1848 that modern Europeans first got a close-up view of the majestic, ice-covered peaks. And the lucky men in question were two German missionaries: Johann Krapf and Johannes Rebmann.
What’s more, on May 11, 1848, Rebmann wrote an entry in his diary that documented what he and Krapf had seen. According to Hans Meyer’s 1891 book Across East African Glaciers: An Account of the First Ascent of Kilimanjaro, the explorer explained, “This morning, at 10 o’clock, we obtained a clearer view of the mountains of Jagga – the summit of one of which was covered by what looked like a beautiful white cloud.” Jagga was an alternative name for Mount Kilimanjaro at the time.
Rebmann’s diary entry continued, “When I inquired as to the dazzling whiteness, the guide merely called it ‘cold,’ and at once I knew it could be neither more nor less than snow… Immediately I understood how to interpret the marvelous tales Dr. Krapf and I had heard at the coast of a vast mountain of gold and silver in the far interior – the approach to which was guarded by evil spirits.”
Then, once Europeans had managed to reach Kilimanjaro, there were a number of unsuccessful attempts to climb to Kibo’s peak. Finally, in 1889, Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller made it to Kibo’s summit, which is on the south side of the mountain’s crater.
Meyer – a German geographer who wrote that aforementioned book about Kilimanjaro – had made the attempt on Kibo twice before but had failed on both occasions. At the age of 31, however, he finally succeeded along with his Austrian mountaineer companion. The two had reached the summit thanks to a carefully planned system of well-supplied base camps.
It would be nearly another 25 years, though, before any European reached the summit of Mawenzi. That technically more arduous climb was conquered in the end by Germans Fritz Klute and Eduard Oehler in 1912. And, of course, ever since those milestones were achieved, people from all around the world have flocked to Kilimanjaro to trek up its slopes. As many as 25,000 visit the mountain each year, in fact.
At well over 19,000 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest peak; it’s also the highest free-standing mountain anywhere in the world. And, naturally, the landmark’s height is the reason why it features snow cover and glaciers even though it is in the tropics and relatively close to the Equator.
Indeed, night-time temperatures on Kilimanjaro’s slopes and summit can fall to as low as −20 °F. Yet despite this, it’s well established that snow cover and glaciers atop the mountain have been shrinking. And while this phenomenon occurred for most of the 20th century – melting was recorded from 1912 to 1953, for instance – ice cover diminution has only continued at a faster pace since then.
Scientists view the decreasing amount of ice on Kilimanjaro as part of a wider global trend of glacial retreat, with some even believing that the material will have disappeared entirely from the mountain by 2060. But while the dissipation of the ice has been linked to climate change, there may also be other local environmental factors at work – such as deforestation.
In any case, in 2000 researchers drilled six cores from Kilimanjaro’s ice as a means of helping determine the causes of the mountain’s disappearing frozen water reserves. A team led by Ohio State University geologist Lonnie Thompson camped for about a month at an altitude of 19,300 feet on the slopes of Kilimanjaro in order to retrieve the cores.
Getting the required samples was hardly easy, either. For one, the operation led by Thompson required no fewer than 25 different permissions from various Tanzanian agencies. And after the team were finally given the green light, they still had to get their equipment up the mountain to the drilling site – a task that ultimately entailed no fewer than 92 porters.
Meanwhile, the holes drilled to extract the cylindrical ice cores varied from 30 to almost 170 feet in length, with most at the higher end of that range. Then, two years after the cores had been obtained, Thompson and several of his colleagues published a paper that was based on analysis of the ice samples and entitled “Kilimanjaro Ice Core Records: Evidence of Holocene Climate Change in Tropical Africa.”
And as the name of that article suggests, the reason why Thompson and his fellow scientists had traveled up Mount Kilimanjaro was in order to study the impact of climate change on those high ice fields. But there was yet another find along the way. Ultimately, you see, the group also appeared to verify a story from the Book of Genesis.
Before we show the relevance of the scientists’ research to that tale in the Old Testament, however, let’s just take a look at the dating methods that they used. First off, the way in which the age of the ice cores was calculated actually had its origins in nuclear bomb tests that had taken place in 1951 and 1952. You see, those tests had actually released an isotope called chlorine-36. And once this radioactive material had been detected in the cores, this could subsequently be used as a marker to date the whole historic extent of the ice cylinders.
Upon investigation, then, the cores offered evidence of a drought in Africa that had started about 8,300 years ago and persisted for some 500 years. Thompson explained this discovery further in a 2002 press release from Ohio State University, saying, “We believe that this represents a time when the lakes of Africa were drying up.” The ice also showed a later drought that took place around 5,200 years ago.
But it was a third drought from about 4,000 years ago – and which lasted for 300 years – that seemingly tied in with the story of Joseph as recorded in the Book of Genesis. And as it happens, that tale is not only found in the Christian Bible but also in the Islamic Qur’an and the Jewish Torah.
As some may already know, the purported events of Joseph’s life are recounted in chapters 37 to 50 of Genesis. And according to this account, the man in question was the 11th son of Jacob, who had been born when his father was married to his second wife Rachel. It seems, too, that Joseph was a particular favorite of his dad’s.
The story goes that Jacob subsequently gave Joseph “a coat of many colors” as a means of showing his affection. But apparently this gift – with its clear connotations of favoritism – made Joseph’s brothers intensely envious. And as Genesis relates, the men’s antagonism towards their young brother was only heightened by the mystical dreams that Joseph claimed to have – as well as his reported ability to interpret them.
Then the Bible claims that the brothers seized Joseph in a fit of envy. Some of Joseph’s siblings are said to have wanted to murder him, in fact, but instead he was supposedly sold into slavery to a band of traders whose camel train was on its way to Egypt. And in order to conceal their crime from Jacob, the brothers reportedly smeared Joseph’s coat with goat’s blood and presented it as evidence that he had died.
So, as the tale relates, Joseph began life in a foreign land as a house slave to a rich Egyptian called Potiphar. Unfortunately, though, Potiphar’s wife Zuleika apparently took a shine to Joseph and made her feelings known. And while Joseph is said to have rebuffed those advances, his reward for loyalty to his master was to be thrown into prison after Zuleika laid false rape charges against him.
The Book of Genesis also says that Joseph’s talent for interpreting the dreams of others came to the fore when he was incarcerated – and that he actually performed such a service for two of his fellow prisoners. These men were no ordinary criminals, either; one had been the Egyptian pharaoh’s chief baker, while the other had worked as the ruler’s cup-bearer. Joseph’s translation of the cup-bearer’s dream, then, was that he would be restored to his previous position. The baker, on the other hand, would be executed. And as the Bible tells it, both prophecies ultimately proved correct.
Then, a couple of years later, the pharoah himself apparently had a strange dream. In this vision, he reputedly saw seven emaciated cattle eating seven well-fed cows; he also imagined seven wilted ears of corn eating seven healthy ears of grain. And although no one at court could tell their ruler what these disturbing scenes meant, the pharaoh’s restored cup-bearer remembered his former prison mate’s dream-interpreting talent.
So, the biblical account claims that the pharaoh sent for Joseph, who would tell the other man the meaning of his dreams. In Joseph’s eyes, it’s said, Egypt would enjoy seven years of plenty before subsequently suffering seven years of famine. And the pharaoh was reportedly so impressed by the former slave that he would appoint him to be his vizier – a senior adviser and official.
As the story explains, Joseph as vizier then set about storing great quantities of grain during the seven good years that followed. In this way, when the seven years of drought and famine came along – just as had been predicted – these grain hoards were able to see Egypt through hard times.
And it’s this period of drought recorded in the Book of Genesis – and which scholars claim took place between approximately 3,600 and 3,700 years ago – that ties in with the findings of Thompson and his team. You’ll remember that the ice cores showed a drought had likely started in the area about 4,000 years ago and extended for some three centuries.
More specifically, the evidence that the scientists had uncovered for this barren period had been a thin layer of dust in the ice cores. And along with the account in Genesis, there are other ancient records that indicate Egypt had been troubled by a drought so severe that it ultimately put the authority of the pharaohs at risk. Before then, parts of the Sahara desert as we know it today had been fertile land.
And this unusual conjunction of biblical storytelling and modern scientific fact seems to further bolster the tale of Joseph’s drought prophecy. Yes, while very few take the Old Testament as literal history, Thompson’s Kilimanjaro ice cores appear to show that verifiable facts from thousands of years ago are nevertheless woven into its tales.