The catastrophic deluge that entered the Black Sea
"The [Black Sea] flood is a fascinating story, all the better for being told by working scientists. What comes across clearly is the thrill of discovery....The mixture of disciplines and ways of doing science is exhilarating and paints a realistic picture of the way research works." Sue Bowler of the New Scientist.
"...an interesting and provocative story.... a detective story that rollicks along, sweeping up everything in its path..." Richard Ellis, The New York Times Book Review
"The Sumerian 'Deluge' story, the Akkakian 'Atrahasis' epic, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and Noah's Flood are 7000 year old echoes of this awesome event." A book reviewer from Arlington VA on the Amazon.com web site
Two senior scientists from Columbia University have proposed a theory that a massive transfer of water occurred about 5600 BCE - over seven and a half millennia ago. They wrote:
"Ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls."
"The Bosporus flume roared and surged at full spate for at least three hundred days." 60,000 square miles of land were inundated. 1
The Black Sea shoreline significantly expanded to the north and east. The lake's its water level was raised many hundreds of feet. It changed from a fresh-water landlocked lake into a salt water lake connected to the world's oceans.
They have drawn on the findings of experts in agriculture, archaeology, genetics, geology, language, development of textiles and pottery, etc. They postulate that this deluge had catastrophic effects on the people living on the shore of the Black Sea. It triggered mass migrations across Europe and into the Near East, Middle East and Egypt. It may have been the source of many flood stories in the area. Some researchers believe that the story of Noah's flood in the Biblical book of Genesis is a myth that had its origin in this cataclysmic event.
A book by William Ryan and Walter Pitman describes one of the most fascinating scientific puzzles of recent years. We found it far more riveting than any detective novel. 1
About 300 cultures around the world have stories of a massive flood. 2 In Judeo-Christian countries, the most famous is the story of Noah's Flood, as recorded in the Bible: Genesis, chapters 6 to 8.
The story of the worldwide flood of Noah has fueled conflicts between geologists and Christians since the early 19th century - long before Darwin was born.
|Conservative Christians generally believe that the the book of Genesis was written by Moses under the inspiration of God. Thus, the original Hebrew text of Genesis was preserved from all error. The worldwide flood happened just as Moses recorded it: all humans and animals were exterminated, except for those who made it to safety on the ark: 2 or 7 animals of each "kind," and Noah, his wife, and family. Considering the percentage of the human race who were killed, it can be argued that the universal flood was the largest genocide in history, involving the extermination of all almost every man, woman, youth, child, infant and newborn. The catastrophic filling of the Black Sea might have happened, but it is unrelated to the Noachian flood for three reasons: |
The reality of the worldwide flood forms a vital part of the belief system of conservative Christians -- particularly those who are:
They have based their theories of astrophysics, geology, paleontology, linguistics, and anthropology upon the creation, flood and Tower of Babel stories in the book of Genesis. In particular, they hold the universal flood responsible for the deposit of massive amounts of sediment in successive layers. This, in turn, solidified to produce the layers of rock observed by geologists.
|Liberal Christians typically regard the Noachian, Babylonian, and hundreds of other flood stories as a myths. Many might linked in some way with a historical flood. The legend of a universal, worldwide flood, as in the Genesis account, might be an interesting myth with spiritual significance; however, it did not happen in reality. There is no source of sufficient water to produce a world-wide flood that covered the highest mountains. Even if it did happen, there is no place to which the flood waters could subside. Genesis was written over an interval of many centuries by at least five author/editors. The universal flood story was derived from an earlier Babylonian myth by two of these authors. The Genesis flood myth is obviously based on an earlier Babylonian myth; there are many correspondences between the two legends. The Babylonian myth appears to be based on an earlier legend that, in turn, might well have been based on dimly remembered memories of the Black Sea catastrophe.|
What happened to the Black Sea?
The theory presented by Ryan & Pitman is partly based on generally agreed scientific findings, and partly on their observations at the Black Sea. The dates will not make much sense to conservative Christians and others who believe in "creation science." This is the belief that God created the earth and the rest of the universe less than 10,000 years ago. We will use the dates used by the 95% of scientists who believe in an "old earth" -- one which coalesced about 4.5 billion years ago.
|Circa 5 million BC: What is now the Mediterranean Sea was a largely dry valley. A narrow height of land between what is now Spain and Northern Africa held back the Atlantic Ocean. The height of land collapsed -- perhaps due to an earthquake, and the Atlantic Ocean flowed in to form the Mediterranean Sea.|
|120,000 to 18,000 BC: During the last ice age, sheets of ice up to two miles thick covered much of the northern parts of North America, Europe and Russia. So much water had been withdrawn from the world's oceans that their level was about 400 feet (120 meters) lower than it is today.|
|18,000 BC: Temperatures started to warm again. The ice at the southern boundaries of the glaciers began to melt. Some of the water fed what is called the New Euxine Lake -- a fresh water lake located within the area of today's Black Sea. It had a small outlet to the Sea of Marmara and thence to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.|
|13,000 BC: The flow of freshwater from the glaciers into this lake had almost stopped.|
|10,500 to 9400 BC: Both the temperature and rainfall dropped in the region -- an event called the Younger Dryas. The flow of fresh water into the New Euxine lake almost stopped. The lake level dropped, due to evaporation. Eventually, the lake level fell below its outlet to the Sea of Marmara. The New Euxine Lake then became a landlocked, fresh water lake. Various tribes in the Near East were experiencing drought conditions. They gravitated to the shores of this and other large lakes where the water supply was fresh and plentiful. They built villages, hunted, fished and learned to cultivate grain crops. They may even have experimented with primitive irrigation methods.|
|9400 BC: Decent levels of temperature and rainfall returned once more.|
|6200 BC: Another ice age arrived. With it was a lessening of rainfall which produced difficult times for those farmers throughout the Middle East who were not situated beside a reliable water supply. Many "farming villages in Anatolia and along the Fertile Crescent were abandoned, while others dwindled." 1 Villagers from many cultures gravitated in large numbers to the New Euxine lake. Along the shores of the lake there would have been villages with farmers and hunters from many cultures in the region. They spoke "many different languages -- Proto-Semitic, Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Kartvalian and others..."|
|Circa 5650 to 5500 BC: Warmth and rain returned once more. The New Euxine lake was still landlocked and fresh. But the Mediterranean Sea and Sea of Marmara had gradually risen to a level some 426 feet (130 meters) higher than the lake. It was held back only by a small rise of land at the Bosporus River -- now the Bosporus Straight near present-day Istanbul, Turkey. Eventually, the ocean level rose high enough to slosh over into the Euxine Lake. It would have cut a small channel down to the lake. "The rivulet became a gentle brook, flowing ever more swiftly, scouring and tugging more forcefully at the bottom and walls of its channel." In a short time, the flow would reach 10 cubic miles of water per day -- 200 times the flow of the present Niagara Falls. Its velocity would have reached 50 miles per hour (over 80 km/hour)! Its noise would have been audible 120 miles (200 km) away. The lake level would have risen about six inches a day. The shoreline would have expanded up to a mile each day in some areas. The effect on the multiple cultures who had settled on the lake shore would have been catastrophic.|
Verification of this theory:
Their theory has been verified in a number of ways:
|In 1999-summer, maritime explorer Robert D. Ballard and his team located the ancient coastline, almost exactly where Ryan and Pitman said that they would find it. The team dredged up samples of rocks from the old shore line of the New Euxine Lake. They found seven distinct species of salt-water mollusks, all of which were carbon dated as being from 2,800 to 6,820 years old. They also found two species of freshwater mollusks which ranged from 7,460 to 15,500 years old. This supports the theory that the Black Sea switched from being a fresh water lake to a salty sea about 7,000 years ago.|
|A survey of the floor of the Black Sea shows that the river beds of the Dniester, Dnieper, Danube, Don, Volga and other rivers continue beyond the present sea shore for as much as a hundred miles. The river beds all stop at the same level. This would have been the ancient shoreline of the New Euxine Lake.|
|A number of features have been detected on the bottom of the Black Sea near its old shoreline. They are shaped like tells -- a characteristic shape of the remains of ancient towns or cities.|
|At one site, some 150 meters (500 feet) under water, archaeologists found more than 30 stone blocks, pieces of wood and other objects -- possibly ceramics. The site "appeared uniquely rectangular." The stone blocks did not appear to be part of a natural geological formation. They tentatively conclude that they have found a site that was once occupied by people. 10|
|A tell near Ilipinar which is south of the Bosporus Straight, has been excavated. At the approximately 5500 BCE level the excavation reveals a sudden change in pottery design. Archaeologists have studied other tells in the area which also showed similar abrupt changes in pottery at the same time. This shows that one society was overrun by another culture at about the same time that the New Euxine Lake was flooded. Presumably the more recent culture were refugees from the flooded lake.|
The next logical step will be to search for the remains of villages and sunken boats from the 6thmillennium BC. 4,5
Human consequences of the deluge
The fields in all the villages which surrounded the lake would have been quickly inundated. Most or all of the fish life in the lake would die as the salt level became intolerable to the fresh water species. The salinity would eventually be high enough to support salt-water species. The people would have had to scatter immediately in all directions in order to survive. Ryan and Pitman suggest that groups of immigrants migrated into islands in the Aegean, and up the Dniester, Dnieper, Danube, Don and Volga rivers. This would have led them into much of Europe, the Balkans, and what is now Russia. Other groups migrated to areas of what is now Turkey, Egypt, the Levant (now Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine), northern Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and Anatolia (now Turkey). Within a few years, the lake level reached equilibrium, at more-or-less its present value.
Did the Noachian flood story originate in the Black Seas event?
As noted above, conservative Christians generally believe that God prevented the authors of Genesis from making any errors in writing. They believe that the Noachian flood must have happened precisely as the Bible says. The story was derived from the events of a world-wide flood, circa 2350 BC. It was not based on a local flood of the Black Sea in the 6th millennium BC.
To many conservative Christians, the 6th millennium BCE did not exist, since they believe that the world was created circa 4004 BC.
Many mainline Christians, liberal Christians, secularists and others are open to the theory that the Genesis flood story was not based on an actual, world-wide flood. Archaeologists have found two truly ancient versions of the flood story which were written down "over two millennia after the [Black Sea] event:"
|One in Sumerian "the language of the first known writing, a language with no known roots and no known descendants" and|
|The other In Akkadia, "one of the ancient tongues of the Semitic language group to which the Arabic dialects and Hebrew belong."|
Linguists are able to trace elements of languages back before they were first written down. William Ryan and Walter Pitman claim that "It is possible through linguistics to tie these people together, with speakers of other languages at about the time of the flood and to the region of the Black Sea." 6
The Babylonian flood myth in the Epic of Gilgamesh is generally regarded as having been derived from these earlier flood stories.
The Epic dates back to the third millennium BC. The Epic, in turn, appears to be a main source of the flood stories in Genesis. According to the Documentary Hypothesis, there were originally two stories written in Hebrew by two unknown authors,
called "J" and "P." These were interleaved into the single Genesis account by a redactor (editor) called "R."
There are about 20 points of similarity between the Bible story and the flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. 5
The Hebrew version is a monotheistic re-writing of the original Babylonian polytheistic text.
There were other flood stories in ancient times. For example "The Greeks had the story of Deucalion, son of Titan Prometheus, who was king of Phthia during the time Zeus destroyed the human race in his own anger-inspired deluge. [Zeus']... flood did the job in only nine days. Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha were the lone survivors, thanks to a warning by Prometheus. Deucalion constructed a boat, which, after the inundation, came to rest on the top of Mt. Parnassus." 7
|2000-FEB-17: Search for Noah's Ark: According to ReligionToday: "The explorer who discovered the wreck of the Titanic wants to find Noah's Ark. Robert Ballard will look in the Black Sea near the Bosphorous where a cataclysmic flood is believed to have occurred 7,500 years ago. Ballard, 57, will use a sonar exploration vessel, undersea search equipment, and a fleet of submarine robots, the Los Angeles Times said. He has discovered the wrecks of the Lusitania, the Nazi battleship Bismarck, U.S. and Japanese warships in the Pacific, and ancient Roman and Phoenician ships. Work begins in a few months." 8|
|2000-JUL: Article in National Geographic: The National Geographic magazine has published an article titled "Black Sea Flood" in its 2000-JUL issue. It describes a massive flooding of the Black Sea by Mediterranean seawater -- perhaps started by an earthquake.|
Related essays on this web site:
|Writer(s) of the book of Genesis: Noah and the ark The flood|
|Who wrote the five books of Moses? -- The documentary and literalist hypotheses|
|Comparison of the Babylonian and Hebrew flood stories|
- William Ryan and Walter Pitman, "Noah's Flood: The new scientific discoveries about the event that changed history," Sinon & Schuster, (!998) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
- Norman Cohn, "Noah's Flood: The Genesis story in Western thought," Yale University Press, (1996). Read reviews or order this book This is a very attractive book with many colored illustrations.
- Holy Bible, Scofield Reference Edition, Oxford University Press, (Copyright date 1917).
- "Ballard & the Black Sea: The search for Noah's flood," at:http://www.nationalgeographic.com/blacksea/
- Frank Lorey, Impact #285: The Flood of Noah and the Flood of Gilgamesh", Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA (1997) Online at: http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-285.htm
- William Ryan and Walter Pitman, op. cit., Page 200.
- AANEWS for 1999-NOV-23.
- ReligionToday for 2000-FEB-17. They provide free newsletters to which you can subscribe at:http://www.ReligionToday.com. These summaries are part of GOSHEN.net
- "Seeking Noah," TV program on The Learning Channel (TLC) for 2001-SEP-20.
- John Wilford, "Black Sea Clues to Biblical-era Flood," New York Times Service, at:http://www.iht.com/articles/34271.html