|Geological Evidence Coinciding with
The Biblical Flood of Noah
Written by Heather Braley
Spring Semester, 2008
And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bare up the ark, and it was lift up above the earth.
And the waters prevailed, and were increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters.
And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered.
Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.
And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, and every man:
All in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was in the dry land, died.
Excerpt from the Bible, King James Version
The story of flood is prevalent in many cultures around the world. The story of Noah and the corresponding flood occurs in the religious texts of Christianity as well as Judaism and Islam. In the Christian version, as well as many others, the basic premise of the story is the same: The deity in charge sees that the people inhabiting the world have become wicked, so in an effort to cleanse the world of said wickedness, a flood is sent. In each of these stories, a main character such as Noah, who is in the good graces of the deity, is forewarned of the impending flood, and instructed to save a select few individual humans in addition to two of every species on the earth. Plans for re-inhabiting the earth have been laid. Once the flood had ended Noah, and whatever species of plants and animals are allowed to start fresh in a cleansed world with a promise from god himself that things will never be that bad again.
As with many religious myths the story of the flood has been met with much skepticism. Critics argue that there is not possible for a flood the magnitude of the one described to have happened so suddenly, with as much rain and water accumulation. Believers who study these religious texts have commonly held that the story is true, but have little other than their faith with which to substantiate these claims.
Recently, after centuries of pondering the validity of flood legends, geologists have uncovered much evidence corresponding to a flood event which took place in times thought to be close to those of Noah. Taking place in the Black Sea region, where Noah is presumed to have lived, was a flood of such magnitude that it is plausible to assume that the flood which occurs in religious texts is the very same flood that can be proven with modern geological techniques. Although the truth of this story has often come into question, modern geologists have discovered evidence which may prove the story to not be a fabrication at all. By employing techniques such as ice core sampling, oxygen isotope dating and observation of fossils in marine sediment core samples scientists have been able to substantiate the claims of a flood of magnitude similar to the flood described in the bible.
Geologists have gathered information about temperature on prehistoric earth was like throughout the past hundreds of thousands of years with the assistance of ice core samples.2 Temperature is determined from these ice core samples by analyzing the ratio of oxgen-18 isotopes in comparison to the lighter, oxygen-16 isotopes. By analyzing the oxygen isotope ratio of various temperatures of water it has been determined that the heavier, oxygen-18 isotope becomes more prevalent as the temperature of water decreases. Paleoclimate scientists using this information have been able to reconstruct timelines of the climate on Earth spanning as far back as 400,000 years ago.3
It is believed that the legends of biblical flood originated sometime between 8,000 and 7,000 years ago. The earth, in this timeframe, was undergoing some major geological changes.
Beginning at a time near 1.8 million years ago was a geological time period known as the Pleistocene Epoch. This period was a time of world wide glaciations, also referred to as an ice age, when glaciers covered much of the continents from the poles to the temporal zones.4
The Pleistocene Epoch lasted until approximately 11 million years ago, at which point the earth entered into its current geological period, known as the Holocene Epoch. The Holocene Epoch was characterized in the onset with a warming of the earth to temperatures slightly higher than temperatures common in present day. Near 9,500 years ago there was a time period in which the temperatures rose by about 10 degrees Celsius within a decade, and remained unusually warm for close to 1,500 years.5 With the warming climate, the glaciers which once cloaked much of the earth began to recede. As the glaciers melted the earth was saturated with excess water, enough to raise the level of oceans by 30 meters. The melting in the onset of the Holocene Epoch created a drainage system in the form of rivers, whose existence persists, in order to dispel water melting off of these colossal glaciers.6
An impact was made on the scientific community by the extensive climate records and all they implied. Oceans filled rapidly during the glacial retreat period following the last ice age on earth. This created new theories about the earth during this time frame.
In 1996 marine geologists from Columbia University, William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman III developed a theoretical explanation, linking these rising oceanic levels with the flood described in the Bible.7 Basing their theory on then newly developed paleoclimatic records, Pitman and Ryan developed a hypothesis: as the level of water in the oceans of the world rose significantly with newly introduced glacial run off waters, a portion of this excess water was pushed into preexisting inland water bodies. In the case of the biblical flood, the story of which is presumed to have originated near the Black Sea in what was once ancient Mesopotamia, water would have traveled inland from the Atlantic Ocean by means of the Mediterranean Sea. Once swelling the banks of the Mediterranean, this water burst into the Sea of Marmora by way of a canal formed from the Aegean Sea. The Black Sea was temporarily protected from this onslaught of water by a land formation near what is now the Bosporus Strait. Eventually the volume of water became large enough to push through the Bosporus Strait into what was then the freshwater lake now known as the Black Sea, creating a saline water body from what had once been freshwater (See image 1). Ryan and Pitman think that water entered the Black Sea area in the form of a temporary waterfall, the force of which being 200 times greater than that of Niagara Falls. Entering at this rate of flow, the water would have caused the level of the black sea to rise six inches in one day. Over the course of a year the flood waters caused the Black Sea to grow by 60,000 square miles.8
The flood Hypothesis of Pitman and Ryan has been supported by both sonar imagery and marine core samples from the Black Sea region. Inspired by the Black Sea flood hypothesis, marine explorer Bob Ballard led an expedition to the Black Sea in 1999 hoping to find evidence which would support these ideas. Using sonar imagery Ballard’s team was able to observe what seemed to be the smooth, underwater, plains of land around the sea perimeter, seeming to lead to what was once the shoreline of an ancient lake. The center of the Sea was choppy, much like that of a lake bed, and showed a formation consistent with that of a lake bed as well.10 On previous expeditions these submerged formations were also observed by Ryan and Pitman, who took samples of the gravel which made up what appeared to be the ancient beaches, now submerged by the Black Sea. The gravel was composed of fossilized, freshwater mollusks. Once analyzed, tests read that the water content in the shells of these mollusks was quite low. Scientists were able to conclude that freshwater mollusks, Monodacna caspia, had at one time lived near what was then the shoreline of a freshwater lake, and were out in the sun long enough to dry out before becoming the crushed gravel of a lakeside beach before being covered with salt water.11
While conducting further sonar research on the now submerged beaches of the former Black Sea Lake, under a layer of clay and gravel a once vegetative area was discovered. This area, while closer to the present day shoreline than that of the suspected former shoreline, was still underwater at a depth of 140 meters below the surface of the water. Carbon 14 dating of samples from the fossilized roots of both large trees and smaller, leafy plants reveled that they were 10,000 to 14,000 years old.12 This is evidence that there was a tree line around the former Black Sea, and that the water body was much smaller at the time.
Marine core samples taken from the Black Sea have further supported the story of seawater flooding this once freshwater region. From the furthest depth of the samples, 215cm, the freshwater mollusk Dreissena rostriformis was found. While this species is still in existence in present times, carbon 14 dating of the Black Sea specimen reveled that it dated back to 14,700 years ago.13 These freshwater mollusks were found at shallower locations in the core samples as well, with the youngest example being approximately 10,000 years old. Monodacna caspia, the same species of freshwater mollusk which comprised the gravel of a submerged beach was also present in the core sample. The sample provided information which placed the age of these lake mollusk fossils at nearly 7,220 years old. Between 7,400 and 7,100 a new species appears in the core samples, while all freshwater species dissipate. The species Cardium edule, more commonly known as a cockle, seemed to arrive suddenly in the fossil record just as the other species ceased to flourish, as they once had in the Black Sea Lake of ancient times. This bivalve species is strictly salt water inhabiting, and first made an appearance in the Black Sea near the time when the proposed, epic flood took place. The arrival of the cockle substantiates theories that the once freshwater lake had been infiltrated with an enormous amount of salt water from the Mediterranean.
Inspired by the marine core sample evidence which supported the freshwater lake theory of pre-flood Black Sea areas, Bob Ballard led another expedition to the region in 2000. Equipped with a fleet of small ships Ballard utilized a remote operated vehicle (ROV) which was designed by scientists especially for researching the frigid bottom of the Black Sea. Using this ROV device researchers were able to transmit recordable images from the bottom of the sea to monitors aboard the ships. While searching near the former mouths of rivers which had once been tributaries of the ancient Black Sea Lake, the ROV transmitted precisely the images researchers had hoped to discover. From a depth of about 95 meters below the sea’s surface the ROV had uncovered the remains of an ancient settlement. Strewn about the floor of the sea were fragments of earthen pots and tools made of stone. Remnants of a dwelling area were also discovered, and as a consequence of the cold, Oxygen starved waters, these artifacts were in an especially well preserved. This settlement is evidence that there was once a community which lived on the shores of a much smaller water body than the Black Sea of present times.14
These settlements show that the former residents of this area were well established, with permanent structures, suggesting that more was destroyed than originally imagined based on biblical accounts. The ancient people of Mesopotamia were in the process of transitioning from a hunting and gathering group to an agricultural group. The settlements found were on stone foundations, this is a clue that these persons had intentions of staying in one place for some time, a habit most typical of agricultural societies. The living conditions of the Mesopotamian people in the time of the flood contribute greatly to the subsequent story of Noah. Had these original tellers of the flood tale still been nomadic, they may have simply left for higher ground once the water levels of the lake began to rise. Because of their established settlements, including extensive farmlands, the inhabitants would have been reluctant to leave right away. It is likely that this hesitation caused more casualties than otherwise would have occurred.
With any story of folklore or religious mythology there is always the risk of facts being exaggerated. As the tale is passed orally, rewritten, or translated from one generation or population to the next, small items may get changed or inflated, possibly in order to keep the story interesting enough to stay alive. Eventually the story becomes so altered that it seems to be a fanciful work of fiction rather than possibly being an accurate account of a historical event. In the case of the biblical flood story, items may have been added or even altered in order to suit the belief system of those who were keeping the story alive.
There is a piece of evidence which leads me personally to believe that accounts of flood have a basis in reality beyond the scope of just being a fable. Witnesses to the flood had the ability to create a written account of the events which transpired. Artifacts found near where the Danube drains into the Black Sea are decorated with designs that very much resemble symbolic writing. None of these symbols have been deciphered by linguists, due to their age it is unlikely that they ever will, but in the post-flood era, there may have been individuals who could read first hand accounts of the flood. This archeological find has been carbon dated as being from 8,000 to 6,500 years ago.15 I feel it probable that the best witnesses to this flood would have been near where these records were located, across the sea from the colossal water fall where they may have been less affected by the event.
As often the case in mythology, an explanation for an unexplained event leads to the will of the Gods. The ancient people of Mesopotamia had no way of knowing that the ice age was coming to an end, melting the glacial components of the polar ice caps, or that these events would lead to the rising of sea levels to catastrophic proportions. When the seas began to rise, and especially when the flood water broke through the Bosporus Strait, the immediate response of those who witnessed it would have been to think that they had somehow enraged God, and this was their punishment.
The accounts of the flood I believe, based on the evidence discovered, have some truthful basis. The wall of water that came crashing down into the lake from the Bosporus Strait would have appeared to be the wrath of God to those seeking an explanation. If the water came with a force 200 times greater than the water rushing over Niagara Falls, as described by Pitman and Ryan, I feel that the accounts in the bible are actually a huge understatement. The story in the bible also describes rain that lasted for many days and nights. I believe this account is quite feasible based on a combination of research. According to the ice core Climatology record, the temperatures were unusually high leading into the flood. With a combination of these high temperatures and an abundance of water from the melting glaciers I feel it would be possible for the evaporation rate to be higher than normal, resulting in excess precipitation. The weather, at the very least would have been very humid, but more likely it would have been raining immensely.
Over all I am personally shocked at all that the physical evidence implies in terms of actual proof that a flood the magnitude of the one in the Bible actually took place. I have always regarded the bible as a book of fables intended to teach proper code of conduct. I rarely look to the bible as a historical reference. The most compelling proof for me had previously been the high occurrence of similar flood stories throughout many cultures. I had planned on mentioning some or all of these flood legends in this paper, and offer it as some sort of ancient collaboration, a possible hypothesis accompanying it would have been along the lines that; the people who survived the flood migrated into many separate locations, and in the formation of various subsequent societies, the flood story evolved along many different lines. I eventually decided that this was more of an archeological prospective, and decided to stick to mainly geological facts, yet my curiosity got the better of me and I looked into the matter a little further. I was more than surprised to find hundreds of flood legends from around the globe. Many had the same bases as the story of Noah, some from common regions even retained Noah as a character, yet Noah did not always survive the flood. I thought that these common stories were supportive to my hypothesis, as well as the folklore from neighboring regions where the story of flood is synonymous with the cultures creation myths. I figured that if the culture was created in the wake of a great flood, it was likely that these people were survivors of the Black Sea flood, and started over, or “created” their civilization elsewhere. Most interesting to me were the legends of flood I found from other civilizations, from everywhere around the globe. Because I find it difficult to imagine that all people are descendants of the clan of Noah, I instead developed a new explanation as to the commonalities in flood stories. I realized that the melting of glaciers was a global event, and it would be foolish to assume that all of the water from this grand scaled melting flowed to Noah’s doorstep. Water levels rose dramatically for everyone inhabiting earth at the time, and it would have caused change significant enough to tell about it around the hearth for many years.
I would like to mention that I am in no way attempting to discredit any religious text by interpreting the geologic record. I am not the one to decide that global warming and not God caused the floods of earth. For all I know God created global warming, and science, too.
Bible, The King James Version, Bible Gateway. Com http://www.bible gateway.com/passage/?book_id=1&chapter=7&version=9 (accessed March 18, 2008)
NASA Earth Observations, “Paleoclimatology: the Oxygen Balance” earth observatory. http://eobglossary.gsfc.nasa.gov/
National Science Foundation, “Timeline” U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory. http://nicl.gov/index.html
Omniglot writing systems & languages of the world, “Old European / Vinca / Danube script” http://www.omniglot.com/writing/vinca.htm. (accessed April 2, 2008)
Ruddiman, W.F., Earth’s Climate: Past and Future. Freeman & Sons (New York) 2001.
Jacqueline S. Mitchell, “The Truth Behind Noah’s Flood” Beneath the Sea, PBS. http://www.pbs.org/saf/1207/features/noah.htm. (accessed March 31, 2008)
Ryan, William B. F, Pitman, Walter C. III and O. Major, Candace, “An abrupt drowning of the Black Sea Shelf” Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. http://ocean-ridge.ldeo.columbia.edu/blackseashelf/black seatext.html. (accessed March 2, 2008)
Schulz, Michael and Paul, Andre “Holocene Climate Variability on Centennial-to-Millennial Time scales: 1. Climate Records from the North-Atlantic Realm” University of Bremen Department of Geosciences, Kiel, Germany http://wwwgeo.uni-bremen.de/geomod/staff/mschulz//reprint/hanse2002_schulz_paul.pdf. (accessed March 20, 2008)
Trimel, Suzanne “Discovery of Human Artifacts below Surface of Black Sea Backs Theory by Columbia University Faculty of Ancient Flood” Earth Institute News Archive, September 13, 2000. http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/news/story9_1.html. (accessed March 31, 2008)