MARTIAN ARCHAEOLOGY and EROSION © by Charles Tromblee
I submitted this article to Archaeology Magazine and it was rejected in a matter of a couple of hours. I thought it would get more consideration than that because one of their recent stories was about archaeology in a garbage dump landfill. Oh well.
Photos of the Martian face and other structures on Mars continuously pop up with commentary by people who assert that the structure looks like a building, a UFO, a monument built under intelligent intent, etc. This happens for the moon as well. I have to admit that most of the time, the person who posts the photos sees something in them that I do not see. To me, most of them look natural. One thing that I have never seen addressed in these photos is structural erosion, so that is the purpose of the rest of this article.
Above is a photo (1976) of the face on Mars followed by a 2006 image of the same thing. A second photo was taken in 1998, another in 2001,(neither is shown) and they both look like the 2006 photo. The first looks artificial (i.e. “man”-made) and the second looks natural. I happen to believe that the face is not a face but is a natural, geologic formation, but that does not mean that I have given up hoping for some astounding discoveries on the red planet.
I have my own predictions for Mars which I will now share with you. 1. We will reconfirm water somewhere on Mars because we already have discovered it several times. No surprise here. 2. We will confirm the theory that abundant water used to flow freely on Mars. 3. China or some country other than the USA will send the first persons to Mars, due to the fact that we are broke and that NASA seems to be more of an impediment to space exploration than not. 4. We will discover evidence of fossilized life on Mars.5. We will discover living things on Mars: simple living things such as lichens, bacteria, and maybe something more. 6. The discoveries in 4 & 5 previous will make momentary big headlines and then settle into oblivion because people will begin to realize that it does not prove that life can spontaneously spring up on a Goldilocks  planet. They will be told that we of earth could have been seeded by Martian life as shown by those Martian meteorites suspected of having fossilized organic structures in a few of them. They got here by some ancient cosmic impact on Mars which ejected material into space and some of the pieces arrived here. Thus, there will be some who maintain that Earth-Mars life is one in the same, and this means that we still have not confirmed that life can spring up independently of the Earth-Mars duo. Instead, the panspermia theory will get renewed publicity and discussion.
My big hope for Mars is that the fossilized life will show larger creatures were alive there as well. One would expect that if water had flowed freely on Mars for a couple of billion years, some larger life forms would have evolved. This will cause a field of Martian paleontology to spring up overnight. I also hope (but do not expect) that ruins will be found on Mars. If that occurred, it would shock the world. After such a discovery, a new field of Martian archaeology also would spring up overnight. These ruins undoubtedly would be so old that Martian archaeology and geology would overlap one another to a great extent. I also believe that if ruins were found on Mars, our government would suppress it.
Somewhere in Mars’ history is a cataclysmic event that caused the whole planet the change from a possible “earthlike” haven to the arid, cold, and barren world we see today. John Brandenburg in his book “Life and Death on Mars” speculates that Mars actually had two huge cataclysms. A large crater exists on Mars which is about 10% bigger than the crater that killed Earth’s dinosaurs, and he makes an estimate of its age at 500 million years . Not coincidentally, that is also about when Mars’ magnetic field weakened according to meteorite analysis. Then, about 320 million years later (180 million years ago), a large atomic blast of likely natural cause rocked the planet. Anyhow, there is small and diminishing doubt that a cataclysm did indeed occur on Mars which altered its geology forever. If there was a civilization there at that time, for sure it ended.
Let’s discuss earthly erosion for a minute. Although not technically “erosion”, plate tectonics causes huge sections of the earth’s surface to be destroyed as one plate slides above another, with the bottom plate pushed down into the molten mantle of the earth, its surface features destroyed forever as the plate re-melts. This takes hundreds of millions of years. We also have water erosion and wind erosion. Erosion can also occur simply by thermal expansion and contraction of rock. Of the erosive types listed, the only ones that can now occur on Mars with any consistency are wind and thermal expansion and contraction.
With respect to Mars’ erosion, Mars’ does not have plate tectonics anymore, if it ever had it at all. This means that the subduction process of one plate moving under another does not occur. We do know that Mars did have some molten material as evidenced by its huge inactive volcanoes, but the huge size of them indicates that the tectonic floating plate process may never have existed because the surface vent of the volcanoes stayed in one location above the molten pocket of magma. That is why Mars volcanoes are so big. Perhaps there was some plate tectonics going on, but when the cataclysm occurred, the core of the planet was disrupted and solidified. The history of Mars’ magnetic field (once strong, now weak and broken up, especially in its northern hemisphere) indicates that the cataclysm did indeed have an important role in changing the internal core of the planet. Also, Mars does not have significant water erosion anymore. It still does have wind erosion and the erosion of thermal expansion and contraction. However, this last erosive type is negligible and will not be addressed any more in this article.
There are further implications in this as well. The only fossilization that could possibly have occurred on Mars since the cataclysm is the compression of large amounts of windblown sand into rock due to its own weight. There is little water for petrifaction nor is there mud burial for eventual fossilization as the buried item turns into rock. Most archaeological items on Mars, therefore, would survive in their own form and original chemical structure simply to be covered over by dust and sand, or if unburied, must survive the grit sandblasting by the atmosphere.
This article will now move ahead with some assumptions about the Martian cataclysm and the hypothetical civilization that it destroyed. Let us assume that Mars did indeed have a civilization at the time of the planet wrecking cataclysm. Let us further assume that at that point in time, all construction ceased and that whatever was not destroyed in the cataclysm was left in place to erode by the only significant remaining erosive process that the planet has: That process is airborne particulate wind erosion. The dust storms that we always observe on Mars are constantly eroding whatever is in their path, or covering it. Let us make a simplifying assumption that immediately after the cataclysm, the atmosphere thinned out and the water “went away”. (Of course it took maybe a few million years for the air and water to diminish to today’s levels.)
We have now set the stage for our analysis. The hypothetical Martian civilization could have been primitive like ours was a couple of hundred years ago, or it could have been more advanced than where we are today. Back then, the only structures we had were wood buildings and masonry buildings. We did have some bronze statues and gold artifacts. Today we have many more metal items but our buildings are still predominantly wood and masonry, and that includes stone structures.
Most people believe that the Mars catastrophe occurred about half a billion to a couple of billion years ago. One indication that this huge time span is correct is the large number of craters on the planet. Those impacts had to have occurred over a time span of hundreds of millions of years. Crater features before the cataclysm were erased by the large of amounts of flowing water, but once the water “went away”, the crater features immediately started lasting a much longer time. For sure, unburied buildings built of plant material and masonry would be completely obliterated since the cataclysm. But what about a really big, thick monument, such as a pyramid or the Martian face? Is one or two billion years enough to completely wear down an unburied huge piece of rock? Let’s do some arithmetic. (Note that this discussion is going to ignore the remote possibilities that the destroyed civilization was using a durable construction material that is unknown to us, or that the ruins are due not to Martians, but instead to a post-apocalyptic colonization of some kind by aliens.)
First, let’s analyze the big pyramid in Egypt which is 759 ft on a side and 480 ft high. In his article “Pyramid Repairs” , Ralph Ellis measured the amount of erosion on the Giza big pyramid to be 20 cm, or 7.87 inches. Although Mr. Ellis was making his case for that pyramid to be 9000 to 13000 years old, I go along with conventional archaeology with the majority opinion of about 4000 years old. Gregory Bock wrote a book in 1996 entitled “Evolution of Hydrothermal Ecosystems on Earth (and Mars?)” in which he explores erosion on both Earth and Mars, pages 261-2 . He gives an erosion rate for Earth to be 10 to 1000 millionths of a meter (microns) per year, and on Mars to be one one-hundredth of a micron per year (0.01 microns/yr). For this article I will use earth’s rate to be within Gregory Bock’s range, so I will use Earth’s rate as 100 microns per year. Applying a 100 micron per year rate to the pyramids, we find that this rate gives a calculated erosion of 15 inches for the great pyramid as compared to Mr. Ellis’ measurement of 7.87 inches. This is really good agreement for what I intend to illustrate. How many years will it take the great pyramid to erode down to half its current 480 foot height? Using Bock’s general figures, we get 768,000 years.
Notice that the erosion rates for Mars are only a fraction for those on Earth, an observation which is consistent with my earlier reasoning that there is only one significant erosive process on Mars as opposed to several on Earth. In fact, Earth’s erosion rate is ten thousand times Mars' rate (comparing the 0.01 micron Mars rate to Earth’s 100 micron rate). This is brought about by the thin air not picking up as much particulate matter as Earth’s thicker air does plus the absence of those other erosive processes mentioned previously.
Thus far, we have talked about monument erosion, but what about buildings that might have existed on Mars? In the TV series on the History Channel, “Life After People ” , we learn that our skyscrapers will all fall down before 600 years will have elapsed after the abrupt disappearance of humanity. Modern skyscrapers will collapse sooner than those built before about 1960. Reasons for this short lifetime vary. Earthquakes on the west coast, basement flooding which weakens the support beams in wetter areas, metal fatigue for the Hancock Tower in Chicago, concrete core cracking allowing water infiltration at the metal rebar in the core for the Petronas Towers in Malaysia, and so forth. Notice that the Martian environment would have virtually no earthquakes or basement water flooding, once again validating the slower erosive process on Mars. The Statue of Liberty will fall in about 300 years due to galvanic corrosion, a process which is probably either non-existent on Mars or much slower. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis will fall in about 250 years due to metal fatigue at the keystone. This is worth mentioning because the skin of the arch is stainless steel, and the “Life After People” narrator intones, “Stainless steel does not last forever”. However, internal to the arch are triangular beams, probably not of stainless, which may be the cause of failure, or the fasteners whose material is not mentioned. I still think that stainless, if the Martians invented it, will last billions of years even if exposed and depending on how thick it is, subject only to pitting and wear if left above ground. Plastic items, if above ground, would last about 600 years on earth until it photo degrades, once again if situated in an area sheltered from the windblown sand. Once one of these hollow structures falls, a big pile of jagged rubble will remain. Water, soil, and plants then will get to work on the rubble piles. Please note that water and plants do not exist to any degree on Mars, nor do ice ages with their glacial grinding action, and soil acids and microbes probably would not be much of a factor on Mars either. Therefore, for this simple minded analysis, I think it will be safe to use our slowdown factor of 10,000 on the preceding numbers in this paragraph: Martian skyscrapers, will take at most 6 million years to fall down (600 x 10,000); metal monuments and statues, 3 million years; plastics, 6 million years, and so forth. At Stone Mountain, Georgia, a huge bas-relief carving is on the side of the mountain depicting heroes of the Confederacy, cut into solid, hard granite. On earth, this carving will last at least 5000 years, so on Mars such a work of art might last 50 million years. Interestingly enough, the Notre Dame Cathedral, built of stone, is predicted to last at least 2000 years, so on Mars we can estimate 20 million years. But notice this: none of these lengthy Martian numbers comes close to the 0.5-2 billion years needed to survive since the cataclysm.
All the preceding is for above ground stuff. What about stuff that gets buried? On earth, what ruins get buried versus what ruins stay above ground is mainly determined by plate tectonics. The ruins on sinking tectonic plates will tend to get buried, and the ruins on rising plates will tend to stay exposed to the atmosphere. On Mars, no such general rule exists due to the absence of plate tectonics, so it’s the luck of the draw as to what gets buried and what does not. As a logical deduction from the earlier discussion, the whole planet, with the exception of its cratering activity, is undergoing a leveling process where it will eventually turn into a spherical, featureless plain; structures built on low areas will tend to be buried, and those built on high elevations will tend to wind eroded away. On Mars, buried items easily should endure the couple of billion years required for us humans to dig them up for study. Gold bars, if buried, will last as long as you want, and teeth will definitely survive. Even plastics might make it. Underground earth erosion does definitely occur, but on Mars it is easily seen that the underground deterioration process definitely will be slower than on Earth simply due to the scarcity of water and microbes.
Now let us talk about the Face on Mars. I looked into my copy of Richard Hoagland’s book, ‘The Monuments of Mars”, for information on its age, dimensions, and a discussion of erosion. I could not find them. I don’t know how a guy can write a 500 page book on those structures on the Martian Cydonian plain and not address these issues, yet that is what appears to have been (not) accomplished. Elsewhere, I found the dimensions of the Martian face to be 7920 feet long and 1584 feet tall. Repeating my opinion of earlier, I think the face is a natural formation, but I have to admit that it could have been a face at one time, carved out of a small mountain much like the sphinx was carved out of a big rock, and now partially eroded down to the unconvincing second photo above. Let’s assume that it would take about 50 to 100 feet of erosion to partially obliterate a humanoid face of those dimensions down to the appearance in photo two. Using our 0.01 micron per year erosion rate for Mars, we find that the face on Mars is 1.5 billion to 3 billion years old. That is actually feasible. Both Earth and Mars were formed at the same time, about 4.6 billion years ago. Most thinking these days is that when Mars had free flowing water and therefore was “earthlike”, it was “earthlike” before Earth itself became “earthlike”. As a point of reference, on August 22, 2011, a news story came out that fossilized cell walls were discovered in Australia that are 3.4 billion years old, which is before Earth had its atmosphere (they metabolized sulfur.)
I am now trying to dig out information on when the Martian cataclysm occurred. One attempt that I made failed. This was to find out about those Martian meteorites that have landed on earth. Thirty three of them have landed  that we have found so far. Some occasionally still fall to earth such as in 1815, 1865, 1911, 1962. My thinking was that if the majority were ejected from Mars, say, 2 billion years ago, then that probably would have been the date of cataclysm that I have been talking about. Surprisingly, their dates of ejection from Mars range from only 20 million to 700,000 years ago. This “young” ejection range is due to the sweeping up of small objects up by larger ones in space so that over time, local space is cleaned of the older ejected objects. This also shows that the cratering process has been continuously occurring on Mars, a fact which we all know. Also surprisingly, the estimated ages of formation of these objects, indicating geological formation activity on Mars, range from 4.5 billion years to only 160 million years. That younger age is undoubtedly due to the localized volcanic activity that now appears to have disappeared on the red planet.
Therefore we should expect that most all future Martian archaeology, if it ever needs to exist at all, will probably involve lots of digging underneath the soil as opposed to finding abandoned cities and eroded monuments. I would prefer that both be found, however. That said, I highly doubt that Martian archaeologists will be able to find an ancient, intact, abandoned city like a Martian Machu Picchu and start their studies because there probably will not be any above ground features left. Furthermore, we know that here on earth whenever a large body impacted the earth, life always took a large setback, and evolution had to start all over again from small surviving creatures evolving into more complex and larger creatures. This has happened quite often given the large amount of mass extinctions in our past history, not all of which were due to impacts. The asteroid belt is the source of most objects that have impacted both Mars and earth, almost 99%. Mars is much closer to the asteroid belt than the earth is, so consequently its cratering rate (same as impact rate) is anywhere from 2x to 10x that of earth. Unfortunately, these more frequent impacts probably have reset its evolving life back to near its starting point several times in its history, so that shortens the intervals between impacts for large intelligent creatures to evolve. But, given the fact that the dinosaur impact of 63 million years ago wiped out most large land animals after which it took us that long to get to where we are now, it is not too big a stretch to think that a “quiet period” just as long took place on Mars while it had its ocean.
What conclusions can we come away with as a result of this somewhat heuristic reasoning process?
- 1. Mars artifacts would be so old that geology and archaeology must merge to some extent.
- 2. Even after 0.5 to 2 billion years, above ground artifacts would still exist if monumental in size.
- 3. Some may even be recognizable.
- 4. Underground objects would be in good condition.
- 5. The “Face” really could have been a face, now severely eroded.
- 6. Given the 20-100 feet of erosion expected in masonry over the last 0.5-2.0 billion years, only larger structures would have anything left still projecting above the ground.
 This is addressed in my blog article, “The Goldilocks Zone and Planetary Magnetism.”
 History Channel, “Life After People”, Season 1, 2009, DVD
 Life and Death on Mars: The New Mars Synthesis” by John Brandenburg, Ph.D., 2011