Finding Noah's Flood

Philosophy News Service * richard jones (richard@PhilosophyNews.com)
Sat, 20 Nov 1999 12:03:32 -0500

Columbia News <http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/features/flood.html>

Finding Noah's Flood: Evidence of Ancient Disaster is Linked to
Biblical Legend

By Hannah Fairfield

Scientists have retrieved sonar images of an ancient coastline 550
feet below the surface of the Black Sea that are strong evidence that
a sudden violent flood destroyed a fresh water oasis and inspired the
story of Noah's Ark, a theory advanced by two oceanographers at
Columbia.

Explorer Robert Ballard, who found the remains of the Titanic, led a
research team this summer that discovered the ancient beach dated
7,500 years ago. That date supports the ideas of Walter Pitman and
Bill Ryan, senior scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory,
who believe that a flood 7,500 years ago forced the diaspora of an
advanced civilization. Their research has generated new discussions
about the role climate change has played in human history.

The story behind their discovery is recounted in "Noah's Flood: The
New Scientific Discoveries About the Event That Changed History,"
which was published in 1999. The book sparked new archeological
interest in the Black Sea, and inspired Ballard to look for further
evidence to support their theories.

Ryan and Pitman believe that the sealed Bosporus strait, which acted
as a dam between the Mediterranean and Black seas, collapsed when
climatic warming at the close of the last glacial period and caused
icecaps to melt, raising global sea level. With more than 200 times
the force of Niagara falls, the flood caused water levels in the Black
Sea, which was no more than a large lake, to rise six inches per day
and swallowed 60,000 square miles in less than a year. As the
Mediterranean salt water replaced fresh water, it caused a wave of
human migration from what had been an oasis of fresh water within very
arid lands--an exodus traumatic enough to be recorded in human memory
as the epic of Gilgamesh and the biblical story of Noah's Ark, the
scientists said.

"Our research is causing a re-look at the role climate plays in human
history," said Ryan. "Before our work, archaeologists were focused
more on studying ancient peoples' behavior based on the tools found in
digs, not the bigger picture of climate change. Right now we have a
working hypothesis that answers all the evidence, and we have set the
stage for a good dialogue."

The scientists base much of their findings on a 1993 expedition to the
Black Sea with the Russian Academy of Sciences. Though sediment cores
had previously been taken from the middle of the Black Sea, the 1993
trip was the first post-Iron Curtain cruise, and the first time
shoreline research was open to the West.

Using cutting-edge sonar equipment to map the ancient shoreline, Ryan
and Pitman found that the shores had been at least 140 meters lower
than the present shoreline. They also found a single, uniform layer of
mud that strongly indicated a flood. When the sediment core samples
were brought to the surface, Candace Major, a student intern for the
cruise who is now a graduate student at Lamont, discovered
sun-bleached freshwater mollusks, fossilized plant roots and cracks in
the buried mud indicating that it had once been dried out and
windswept.

"We came back with the goods," said Pitman.

While the scientists waited for the mollusk shell carbon-14 dates from
an accelerated mass spectrometer--a machine with the highest accuracy
available--they knew that those dates would be the ultimate test. If
the sea had grown slowly for more than a thousand years, so would the
population of the mollusks. But if a flood had occurred, all the
mollusks would be approximately the same age.

In February 1994, the results came in. There was only a 40 year
difference between the mollusks in the deepest layers and the ones in
the shallowest. The date was 5,600 B.C.-- within the era of modern
human history.

"Statistically, the dates were the same. It was pretty persuasive,"
said Pitman.

So with the scientific story in place, Ryan and Pitman began looking
at other aspects of the story. They consulted with archeologists,
anthropologists, linguists and seed geneticists. From this research,
their hypothesis took shape: the Black Sea was an oasis where people
from surrounding areas migrated during a cold, arid period beginning
in 6,200 B.C. and exchanged languages, ideas and farming. When the
Bosporus dam broke and the valley was deluged, the scientists believe,
the peoples migrated to higher lands, taking the farming and cultural
adaptations with them. The memory of the flood continued in an oral
tradition for three thousand years until written languages emerged,
and the tale remains in the epic of Gilgamesh and the biblical story
of Noah.

"Whether or not it is true that the myths are based in the flood we
discovered, the book is shaping an agenda in archeological circles,"
said Ryan.

Previous to Ryan and Pitman's research, the Black Sea was not a place
many archeologists believed held much human history. Now,
archeologists are wondering if climate change might have been the
piece missing from the early human history of the region.

"This is just what we wanted to happen," said Ryan. "We wanted our
research to drive the mission to have people explore the region and to
look at global climate change as an important factor."