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5150 BC - Post-Glacial Black Sea Flooding

Although the story about Noah's Flood originated likely in Mesopotamia and the Epic of Gilgamesh is recorded at the northwestern end of the Persian Gulf, W. Ryan and W. Pitman, two American geologists, have attributed this flood to a location quite far away, on the other side of the large mountain chain: the Black Sea. There were significant paleoceanographic events in the Black Sea at 8.4 and 7.15 ky BP.

The Anatolian Fault, similar to California's San Andreas Fault, extends from eastern Turkey to Greece. Like its American counterpart, it is a network of smaller fault segments that divide two tectonic plates-Eurasia and Anatolia. Nearby, the Arabian plate, moving north slightly faster than its neighbor the African plate, has crafted the Caucasus Mountains. The African plate has been shrinking the Mediterranean basin at the heart of the cradle of Western civilization. Remnants of ancient sea floors remain; however, most rock was pressed down toward Earth's mantle, melting and producing magma that resurfaces through cracks forming volcanoes, like Mount Ararat in Turkey.

According to Columbia University geophysicists Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman, the Anatolian fault may have triggered the first catastrophic event for which written records survive - an enormous flood that turned a fresh-water lake into the Black Sea about 7,600 years ago. Riverbanks and freshwater sources have always attracted farmers and settlements to them. The lake was much lower and smaller at the end of the Ice Age. As glaciers melted, rising seas carved today's Bosporus from the Sea of Marmara into the Black Sea basin. Calculations indicate that the level of the lake would have risen half a foot per day. Villages would have disappeared under water in a couple of weeks. Escaping would have required inhabitants to travel between a half and one mile per day. A beach has been discovered below 550 feet of water near the Black Sea's south shore. Was this the sequence of events in the Old Testament narrative of Noah?

The Ice Age tied up immense amonts of sea water, dropping coastlines and leaving lowlands isolated. The cold, dry air spilling off the glaciers swept over a freshwater lake northeast of the Mediterranean Sea. The lake evaporated faster than the rivers feeding it could replace. Ultimately, the lake's surface was far below sea level, but the sea was restrained by a land barrier. Once breached, the salty ocean water poured through what is now the Bosphorus to flood the lake's basin. At its height, the flow must have been ten times that of Niagra Falls and gushed through the break at over 70 kph.

Ryan and Pitman contend that the Black Sea at the time of the alleged flood was a fertile oasis, a cultural magnet where diverse peoples?farmers, animal breeders, artisans?exchanged techniques and possibly genes. They point to the sudden appearance in Europe, shortly after 5600 BC, of "outsider" tribes, advanced farmers who, the theory goes, were fleeing the flooded Black Sea region. Other flood refugees, in this scenario, migrated to Russia's steppes, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and the Middle East, preserving memory of the catastrophe in mythic and oral traditions later enshrined on clay tablets and ultimately in the Bible.

The three fundamental scenarios describing the late glacial to Holocene rise in the level of the Black Sea are catastrophic, gradual, and oscillating. As scientific examination of this hypothesis has progressed since it was first proposed by Ryan and Pitman, the dramatic rapid infilling scenario can no longer be supported. There may have been a much more powerful flood earlier in time, approximately 15-16 thousand years ago, resulting from the overflow of the Caspian Sea into the ancient Black Sea basin. The Ryan and Pitman event, while still appearing to have occurred, did not involve as much water or as large a rise in the level of the Black Sea as first proposed.)Dr. Robert Ballard, famed as the discoverer of the wreck of the Titanic, searched the Black Sea in 1999 and found indications of the ancient shoreline of the freshwater lake. In 2000, Ballard found evidence of ancient settlements on the underwater shore of this ancient lake, well-preserved due to the anoxic conditions, which preserve organic matter well.

In 2000, Robert Ballard famous for finding Titanic, discovered remains of a wooden structure that may have been part of an ancient seaport 95 meters below the surface of the Black Sea. This may be one of the best places in the world to look for remains of ancient civilizations, because the deep waters of the Black Sea contain almost no oxygen; so the biological organisms that normally attack such relicts cannot live in this environment. The find may lend credence to a theory that a Black Sea flood gave rise to the Noah story and other flood legends.

Because of the controversy of this hypothesis, a spur of new interest in the paleoceanography of the region has developed. Contradicting this hypothesis, Aksu et al. (2002) suggested that persistent Holocene outflow from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of Holocene did not allow Mediterranean water to enter the Black Sea, and, therefore, a Great Flood in the Black Sea was not possible. Moreover, Aksu et al. (2002) attributed the formation of Sapropel S1 (9.0-6.8 ka) organic-rich sediments layers, to the outflow of Black Sea waters into the Marmara and Aegean Seas, as proof against the catastrophic inflow of Mediterranean water into the Black Sea basin. Sperling et al. (2003) and Spezafferri et al. (2003) subsequently showed that there was no influence on the Eastern Mediterranean by Black Sea outflow. They evidenced this by using isotopic records of foraminifera from the Levantine Basin, Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. This may be seen as a rebuttal of the Aksu hypothesis, which is a rebuttal of the Ryan and Pitman hypothesis.

Prof. Yanko-Hombach, head of the Avalon Institute and President of the International Society of Environmental Micropaleontology, Microbiology and Meiobenthology, with longtime experience of the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Sea of Marmara and Eastern Mediterranean, addressed Noah's Flood at the Third International Congress "Applications of Micro- and Meioorganisms to Environmental Sciences" at the University of Vienna, Austria (2002). According to Yanko-Hombach, the flood did not take place in the Black Sea after all, at least not at the proposed time, and not to the extent described by Ryan and Pitman. By working with a large pool of data from several different countries, she squarely refuted a National Geographic special that aired three years ago, showing that during the time period in question there was no large flood in the Black Sea basin. New materials on the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus were also taken into consideration. In the context of the flood hypotheses one must consider three scenarios of Black Sea development: the progressive, the catastrophic, and the oscillatory scenario. The oscillatory re-colonization of the Black Sea by Mediterranean immigrants in Holocene, a wide distribution of peats and unconformities in geological section are evidence of fluctuating sea levels which likely had their influence on human development.

High-resolution seismic reflection profiles and analyses of the sedimentary substrate at the Sea of Marmara (SoM) entrance to the Strait of Istanbul (SoI, Bosphorus) provide a detailed record of the transgression that took place after the SoM reconnected with the Mediterranean. Early channel and levee deposits within the paleo valley belong to the Younger Dryas cold stage and record outflow from the Black Sea. These findings refute the hypothesis of Aksu et al. (Aksu, A.E., Hiscott, R.N., Mudie., P.J., Rochon, A., Kaminski, M.A., Abrojano, T., Yasar, D., 2002a. Persistent Holocene outflow fromn the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean contradicts Noah's Flood hypothesis.

Tchepalyga proposed that the late Pleistocene (16-12 ka BP) flood in the Black Sea reduced the life space and food resources of late Palaeolithic people, causing their inland migration, increasing population density and starting the transition from a hunting and gathering culture to a sedentary farming and cattle-breeding culture, thus creating a basis for the Great Flood legend. "Tschepalyga's Flood" was probably more dramatic than Ryan's flood, as the level of the Neweuxinian Lake increased rather rapidly from ca -140 m to -50 m during 3 ka (16-13 ka BP), reached -20 m at the end of the Pleistocene, and than dropped to -35 m during Younger Dryas. The Holocene transgression and "Ryan's flood" began from -35 m at ~8.6 ka BP but not -140 m as was proposed.

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