evidence of ancient flood:BIBLE
science meets biblical legend deep in the Black Sea
Guy Gugliotta (WASHINGTON POST)
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 — The
biblical story of Noah and the great flood inspired this engraving by Gustave
Dore, titled "Dove Sent Forth From the Ark." Now scientists say they
have found new evidence for a catastrophic flood thousands of years ago.
have discovered an ancient coastline 550 feet below the surface of the Black
Sea, providing dramatic new evidence of a sudden, catastrophic flood around
7,500 years ago—the possible source of the Old Testament story of Noah.
A TEAM of
deep-sea explorers this summer captured the first sonar images of a gentle berm
and a sandbar submerged undisturbed for thousands of years on the sea floor.
Now, using radiocarbon dating techniques, analysts have shown that the remains
of freshwater mollusks subsequently dredged from the ancient beach date back
7,500 years and saltwater species begin showing up 6,900 years ago.
Explorer Robert D. Ballard, who led the team that collected the shells, said the
findings indicate a flood occurred sometime during the 600-year gap. “What we
wanted to do is prove to ourselves that it was the biblical flood,” Ballard
said in an interview this week. The
findings offer independent verification of a theory advanced by Columbia
University geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman that the Black Sea was
created when melting glaciers raised the sea level until the sea breached a
natural dam at what is now the Bosporus, the strait that separates the
Mediterranean Sea from the Black Sea.
An apocalyptic deluge followed, inundating the freshwater lake below the dam,
submerging thousands of square miles of dry land, flipping the ecosystem from
fresh water to salt practically overnight, and probably killing thousands of
people and billions of land and sea creatures, according to Ryan and Pitman.
The two scientists described the catastrophe in their book “Noah’s
Flood,” based on 30 years of research that began with coring samples showing
the same abrupt transition from lake to sea that Ballard confirmed with his
dredge. No one had ever actually seen the old shoreline, however, until
Ballard’s team captured sonar images of it in August.
LEGEND OR HISTORY
Ryan and Pitman also suggested that the flood
may have triggered massive migrations to destinations as diverse as Egypt,
western Europe and central Asia, an idea that has provoked some academic
controversy. Scholars also question
whether any natural disaster could be conclusively identified as the inspiration
for the story of Noah’s flood. "All
modern critical Bible scholars regard the tale of Noah as legendary,” said
Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archaeology Review. “There are other
flood stories, but if you want to say the Black Sea flood is Noah’s flood,
who’s to say no?” Shanks
pointed out that biblical scholars date the writing of the Book of Genesis, from
which the story of Noah is taken, at sometime between 2,900 and 2,400 years ago,
and a similar event is described in the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh legend, written
about 3,600 years ago.
But while Ryan and Pitman do not
prove that the Black Sea flood directly inspired Gilgamesh or Noah, their theory
argues persuasively that the event was probably horrific enough for scribes and
minstrels to remember it for thousands of years.
Regardless of the historical context, the science of the Black Sea flood
stands undisputed. Ryan and Pitman
dated the event at 7,600 years ago, and they fixed the likely depth of the
ancient coastline almost exactly where Ballard found it.
“It feels good,” Pitman said of Ballard’s findings, analyzed by the
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Pitman noted that the new
research took place on the Black Sea’s southern shore near the Turkish port of
Synope—far from the northern waters where he and Ryan had worked.
MAPPING THE DEEP
The flood, the underwater coastline
and the likelihood that ancient settlements lie on the submerged plain have
added a new dimension to an already ambitious project.
The region’s main archaeological attraction has always been the Black
Sea itself, composed mostly of dense Mediterranean salt water that immediately
plunged to the bottom of the freshwater lake when the Bosporus gave way 7,500
years ago. Ever since, the less
dense water on top has acted as a 500-foot-deep lid on a 7,000-foot-deep
oxygen-free abyss—a watery wilderness where scientists suspect there may be
7,500 years of shipwrecks preserved in almost pristine condition.
The tantalizing prospect of exploring this environment piqued Ballard’s
interest several years ago. Beginning with the Titanic in 1985, Ballard has
found several historic wrecks in deep water using manned submersibles and
robotic vehicles. The Black Sea
project, funded by the National Geographic Society and the University of
Pennsylvania, began in 1995, when teams of archaeologists on land and in shallow
water began mapping Synope and its environs. Synope is about 200 miles directly south across the Black
Sea’s abyssal waters from the Crimea—a natural terminus for an ancient trade
route. Ballard said he intends to use a deep-sea robot next summer to look for a
sea lane. “The first thing you
find is trash; you didn’t have Adopt-a-Highway then,” he said. And where
there is trash, there are sure to be wrecks. “My biggest problem is going to
be trees,” he added. If wooden ships can survive in the Black Sea’s depths,
then so can trees. The bottom could look like a forest.
‘FROZEN IN TIME’
These difficulties, Ballard said, are different from those inherent in the
search for flood-plain settlements. Many
of these were probably buried—and lost forever—when a thick layer of
sediment swept into the old lake with the flood waters.
And Ballard suspects many others have been destroyed by the trawlers that
have been scouring the sea bottom for thousands of years.
Still, he said, there are plenty of “relic surfaces” near Synope,
where the water simply rose quickly to submerge intact whatever lay below.
Ballard’s sonar sweeps this summer found a gentle coastline “frozen in
time,” he said. “In a perfect
world you’ll see a fence,” Ballard said, or maybe a stockade or even a
house. And there will likely be plenty of artifacts, because “when
the flood came, people just had to run.”
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