Relics of Noah’s flood?
Archaeologists discover man-made structure deep in the Black Sea
By Guy Gugliotta THE WASHINGTON POST
Archaeologists said yesterday they have discovered the remains of a man-made structure more than 300 feet below the surface of the Black Sea, providing dramatic new evidence of an apocalyptic flood 7,500 years ago that may have inspired the Biblical story of Noah.
‘It is beyond our wildest imagination.’ — ROBERT D. BALLARD leader of the expedition
THE EXPEDITION ALSO spotted planks, beams, tree branches and chunks of wood untouched by worms or mollusks, a strong indication that the oxygen-free waters of the Black Sea’s 7,000-foot-deep abyss may shelter intact shipwrecks dating back to the dawn of seafaring.
“It is beyond our wildest imagination,” explorer Robert D. Ballard, leader of the expedition, said yesterday. “Wood is existing much shallower than we thought. When we do go deep, it can only get better.”
The discovery is the latest from the Black Sea project to look for ancient shipwrecks and perhaps evidence of a great flood. Late last year, the team discovered the outlines of an ancient coast 550 feet below the current waterline, the first visual evidence that a flood had occurred in the region eons ago.
Click and drag photo to resize. Script from The Java Script Source
This month, working from a ship 12 miles east of the Turkish port city of Synope, Ballard’s team used special “side-scan” sonar to map anomalies on the sea floor, then sent a robotic submersible to investigate the most promising sites.(photo:the Black Sea at Sunset)
At 311 feet, the submersible found a collapsed rectangular building 39 feet long and 13 feet wide, “about like a good-sized barn,” Ballard said in a telephone interview from the site.
University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert described the construction technique as a “cluster of wood stuck in a clay matrix” – traditional Black Sea “wattle and daub” architecture: “This struck a bell, because it was familiar to me from land,” Hiebert said. “Literally my jaw dropped.”
The expedition also found old tree branches, pieces of wood and a trash heap with polished stones and other debris indicating human habitation, Ballard said.
In the same general area, the submersible identified two old shipwrecks with many intact wooden planks and ceramic amphorae – jars used in ancient times to transport liquids such as olive oil or wine. Researchers are unsure if they are from the same period or related to an ancient flooded settlement.
INTENSE AREA OF INTEREST
Archaeologists have long been interested in the Black Sea, because its waters are anoxic – lacking in oxygen – below a depth of 500 feet. In theory, organic material that shipworms quickly gobble elsewhere would lie untouched in the Black Sea’s sterile depths. Later this month Ballard plans the first-ever exploration of the Black Sea floor.
Interest in the Black Sea quickened last year with the publication of “Noah’s Flood,” by Columbia University geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman, suggesting that the modern-day sea was formed 7,500 years ago when melting glaciers raised sea level until the waters of the Mediterranean breached the natural dam at the Bosporus.
According to the theory, a cataclysmic deluge followed. Seawater from the Mediterranean poured into the Black Sea basin at 200 times the volume of Niagara Falls. The heavier salt water plunged to the bottom of the existing fresh water lake and began to fill the basin like a bathtub.
img align=left src="images/ballardship.jpg" height=169 width=225 border=0 hspace="5" vspace="5">The theory holds that the rising lake-sea inundated and submerged thousands of square miles of land, destroying communities, killing people and wiping out uncounted species of plants and animals as the ecosystem flipped from fresh water to salt water in a period of only two years.
The flood also created a two-layered body of water, which permanently interfered with the normal convection that brings deep water to the surface for oxygenation. The less dense fresh water lay like a lid on top of the denser Mediterranean water, sterile once its original oxygen had been used up.
Today the top 500 feet of the Black Sea supports a thriving marine life, but the rest is as dead as the ancient day when the flood waters settled.
Scholars regard both the book of Genesis and the story of Noah as legends written between 2,900 and 2,500 years ago, and have questioned whether any natural disaster could be conclusively identified as the inspiration for Noah’s flood.
Still, the event described by Ryan and Pitman appears horrible enough to be remembered by scribes and poets long enough to become the source of the Biblical story.
JOLT FOR BIBLICAL SCHOLARS
“Among scholars who take the Bible literally this will be confirmation,” said Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. “Critical Bible scholars are almost unanimous in regarding the flood story as a legend. On the other hand, legends arise not out of imagination but from an experience. I don’t think we’ll ever know what flood that was.”
Last year, Ballard’s expedition, which is supported by the National Geographic Society, the Office of Naval Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and the University of Pennsylvania, discovered evidence of an old coast.
Tests of shell samples showed that freshwater mollusks had lived in the waters until 7,500 years ago, but had been replaced with marine species 600 years later. The next question, Ballard said, was “did anyone live here?”
On land, Hiebert’s archaeological work at Synope suggested that the likeliest spot for settlements was between 165 feet and 330 feet above sea level. The “sweet spot” for pre-flood communities, therefore, should be in waters 170 feet to 435 feet deep, he said.
On Sept. 2, Ballard’s team began to scan this band of territory: “if you drained it back, it would be rolling countryside with meandering streams,” Ballard said. “We located the countryside, and located the river systems.”
Shortly after that, they found the submerged building with intact wood about 200 feet above where they expected to find it: “Now we’re looking for the neighbors,” Ballard said.
... © 2000 The Washington Post Company
Undersea Explorer Finds New Evidence of Noah's Flood
Follow-up:New Evidence of Worldwide Flood
Archaeologists have found evidence that appears to support the theory that a catastrophic flood struck the Black Sea region more than 7,000 years ago, turning the sea saline, submerging surrounding plains and possibly inspiring the flood legends of Mesopotamia and the Bible.
In their first scientific report, the expedition leaders said that a sonar survey in the sea off Sinop, a city on the northern coast of Turkey, conducted in the summer of 2000, revealed the first distinct traces of the preflood shoreline, now about 500 feet underwater. At one site, the sonar detected more than 30 stone blocks on a gently sloping but otherwise featureless bottom.
Further investigation with remote controlled cameras revealed pieces of wood and other objects, possibly ceramics.
The site "appeared uniquely rectangular" in the sonar image, and the stone blocks did not appear to be part of a natural geological formation, expedition scientists reported in the Oct. 1 issue of The American Journal of Archaeology. Analysis of core samples yielded chemical evidence that archaeologists said were consistent with the interpretation that the site was once occupied by people.
"The expedition clearly has found a subaquatic landscape with materials that belong to the period before the inundation," said Dr. Bruce Hitchner, an archaeologist at the University of Dayton, Ohio, and editor of the journal, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. "They have confirmed an important element of the flood theory, quite convincingly I think."
The expedition was led by Dr. Robert D. Ballard, an oceanographer and president of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn., and Dr. Fredrik T. Hiebert, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania. The research was supported in part by the National Geographic Society.
Among the expedition's most striking discoveries were four Roman and Byzantine shipwrecks, several of them surprisingly well preserved because of the sea's oxygen-deficient waters at the bottom.