Plumbing Black Sea for Proof of the Deluge
Wed, 06 Jan 1999 13:04:14 -0500 (EST)

Plumbing Black Sea for Proof of the Deluge


Two Columbia University marine geologists, inviting incredulity, came
forward in 1996 with astonishing evidence suggesting that a catastrophic flood
of the Black Sea 7,600 years ago could have played a pivotal role in the
spread of early farming into Europe and much of Asia. The deluge also may have
cast such a long shadow over succeeding cultures that it inspired the flood
account in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh and, in turn, the story of Noah in
the Book of Genesis.

Now the geologists, Dr. William B. F. Ryan and Dr. Walter C. Pitman III of
Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N. Y., say they have
even more archeological, geological and climate data to support their
provocative thesis. They argue their case in "Noah's Flood: The New Scientific
Discoveries About the Event That Changed History," a book being published next
week by Simon & Schuster.

While the authors have yet to win over skeptics of the Black Sea flood's
possibly sweeping influence on history, other scientists have weighed in with
new findings that seem to confirm the fact of the flood itself. In about 5600
B.C., with rising global sea levels, salt water from the Mediterranean and
Aegean seas apparently burst into the Black Sea, then a landlocked freshwater
lake. The Black Sea rose with terrifying swiftness, inundating more than
60,000 square miles of coastal plains and giving the body of water its current
size and configuration.

The thesis, however it is ultimately judged, has already inspired a wave of
archeological and other scientific research in the previously neglected Black
Sea region.

"It has captured the archeological community's attention and enthusiasm,"
Ryan said in a recent interview. "The atmosphere has changed in just two
years. People from many countries are keen to take part in exploring the idea
in many ways."

Working on Turkey's Black Sea coast at Sinop, Dr. Fredrik T. Hiebert, a
University of Pennsylvania archeologist, has detected possible ruins of a
Stone Age village that was submerged in the flood. He is planning an
expedition this summer to expand the search for preflood settlements. One
objective is to determine if the people were farmers and so, as refugees from
the deluge, might have spread the practice of agriculture into Europe for the
first time.

Dr. Robert D. Ballard, the oceanographer who used modern underwater
technologies to find and explore the Titanic wreck, is preparing an ambitious
survey of submerged Black Sea archeological sites this summer. Ballard,
formerly with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, is
president of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn.

Until Ryan and Pitman advanced their hypothesis, archeologists had little
reason to believe the preflood Black Sea shore was particularly hospitable.

In the last two years, moreover, new cores from the Greenland ice cap have
revealed that the world underwent a cold, arid period, beginning in 6200 B.C.
and ending about two centuries before the flood. Archeological digs in the
Middle East appear to show many Neolithic settlements' being abandoned during
this drought.

"We speculate that this cold and arid period may have driven people to the
Black Sea as an oasis," Pitman said. "They would have brought farming with
them to this water hole, so to speak, and also exchanged ideas and languages."

The timing of the flood, Pitman said, happened to coincide with
archeological evidence of newcomers in the Balkans and in northeastern Europe
and with some of the earlier signs of agriculture in these regions. Some
pottery at these sites is similar to that found near the Sea of Marmara in
Turkey from around the time of the flood.

Making connections between people displaced by the flood and the rise of
agriculture in Europe -- even in Egypt and Central Asia -- is the most
controversial aspect of the Ryan-Pitman thesis. In a review of the book in the
current issue of Archaeology magazine, Mark Rose, the managing editor, said
the farming connection "is predicated on a huge archeological assumption" that
there was a drought and it did force Middle Eastern farmers to find refuge on
the preflood Black Sea coast. He also noted that some farming had already
begun to appear in parts of Europe 500 years before the putative flood.

Rose concluded: "If Ryan and Pitman are right about the inundation of the
Black Sea, they have made a real advance in our understanding of the region's
past. But making it Noah's flood and claiming it was the 'event that changed
history' was a mistake."

In other recent research, Dr. Gilles Lericolais, a French oceanographer, led
an expedition last spring that conducted more seismic and echo-sounding probes
of the submerged shelf off the Black Sea coast. He discovered deep underwater
canyons where the Danube and Dnieper rivers had once cut deep to reach the
declining waters of the preflood Black Sea.

Turkish geologists recently reported evidence that, contrary to most
assumptions, the Bosporus Strait was cut at the time of the flood and not
before. At the end of the last ice age, more than 12,000 years ago, the outlet
connecting the freshwater Black Sea to the Mediterranean was probably a
channel through the Sakarya River to the Gulf of Izmit, an eastern arm of the
Sea of Marmara. But this passageway had closed well before the flood, leaving
no outlet for Black Sea's steadily evaporating and diminishing waters.

"We have no way of knowing what caused the change," Ryan said. The Sakarya
outlet "is on the Anatolian fault, so a slip of the fault may have choked it

In any event, where the Bosporus flows today by Istanbul, separating Europe
and Asia, there was a low valley just before the flood. Ryan and Pitman
propose in their book that a natural dam across the valley kept the ocean
waters, rising since the melting of ice-age glaciers, from entering the Black
Sea basin. This, they said, would explain why the world ocean did not make
contact sooner with the lowered Black Sea and why, when it did break through,
the event was so catastrophic and left such a deep scar as the Bosporus

Tuesday, January 5, 1999