The Real-Life Basis for Noah's Flood

by Tina Blue
December 16, 2000

          In their book Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event That Changed History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), Walter Pitman and William Ryan detail the overwhelming evidence that the Old Testament story of Noah and the Great Flood (Genesis 6:9-9:17) was actually based on a real-life event, a cataclysmic flood that took place approximately 7,600 years ago, in 5,600 b.c. Other ancient oral literatures, most notably the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh and an older Sumerian version, called The Deluge, also tell of a Great Flood that would have occurred at about the same time as the one recorded in Genesis.

          All of the world's saltwater oceans are really one great connected body of water, the "world ocean." The Black Sea, which lies between Turkey and the former U.S.S.R., is connected to the world ocean by way of the Sea of Marmara, through the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. The narrow passageway between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus Strait, is marked by certain anomalous physical characteristics that point to a time when the Black Sea was actually an isolated freshwater lake, and the Bosporus Strait a mighty natural dam.

          At the beginning of the most recent glacial cycle, about 120,000 years ago, the earth's climate and sea level were essentially similar to what they are today. The last Ice Age lasted for about 100,000 years, during which water that evaporated from the oceans was not returned to them in the form of rain or meltwater, but instead was carried by winds to fall as snow near the Arctic regions. Over a thousand centuries, the snow accumulated in ice sheets up to two miles thick, causing world sea levels to fall by four hundred feet. By the peak of this glacial cycle, twenty thousand years ago, when the glacial meltdown began, modern man had already migrated into Europe and Asia, thus providing human witnesses to the changes that occurred during the thousands of years of the meltdown, including a brief refreezing episode, the Younger Dryas, that occurred 12,500 years ago (about 10,500 b.c.) and lasted for about a thousand years.

          When the great thaw took place 20,000 years ago, the enormous quantity of water released from the polar ice sheets flowed into the oceans, and sea level rose gradually all over the world. From northern Russia, meltwater flowed southward into the New Euxine Lake, the Ice Age lake at the site of the present-day Black Sea. By 15,000 years ago, this lake had reached a level where it connected to the Sea of Marmara, and through it to the Aegean Sea and then the Mediterranean Sea. The vast quantity of meltwater also freshened this lake to the point where it became potable for humans and animals.

          The weight of the ice sheets during the height of glaciation had created a deep sag in the earth's surface, along with a barrier of displaced earth. As the glaciers retreated, melting faster to the south where it was warmer, a sort of moat, caused when the meltwater was blocked by the displaced earth, developed parallel to the glaciers' edge.

          The melting glaciers sent their overflow into several enormous lakes that no longer exist, but which at that time filled the sag in the earth's crust caused by the weight of the massive ice sheets. As these lakes grew, the water eventually rose over the crest of the bulge and flowed southward into the Caspian, Aral and Black seas, but by 13,000 b.c. the glaciers had retreated far enough north that the southward flow of the meltwater into the Black Sea had almost stopped, and the water was rerouted westward by other geographical structures, including the "moat" and the bulging land barrier.

          When reglaciation occurred during the Younger Dryas, about 10,500 b.c., rains again became scarce. Precipitation around the Black Sea was so low that it was outpaced by surface evaporation, and the water level of the Black Sea began to fall, until it had dropped below the Sakarya outlet that had connected it to the Sea of Marmara. As the sea level dropped all over the world, the Sakarya channel also lost its connection to the Sea of Marmara, and over the ages mud and debris accumulated there to form a huge natural earthen dam (the "Bosporus dam," at the site of the present-day Bosporus Strait).

          During this time of glaciation and general worldwide dessication, humans and animals collected near natural freshwater reservoirs like the reduced Black Sea lake, which was surrounded by rich soils and which provided not only the opportunity to develop agriculture, but also abundant food in the form of fish and animals.

          When the Younger Dryas ended (about 9,400 b.c.), the landscape became more hospitable and people began to migrate away from such oases, carrying with them the newly developed skill of cultivating and harvesting plants for food--i.e., agriculture. Another brief ice age occurred about 6,200 b.c., once again causing dessication in southeast Europe, the Ukraine and southern Russia. And once again humans retreated to the edges of freshwater reservoirs, including the Black Sea, which was still an isolated freshwater lake.

          About 5,800 b.c., another thaw brought back the rains and warmer weather, and people again moved into previously abandoned areas. This thaw also caused a rise in the world's sea level, and by 5,600 b.c. the world ocean had risen to the point where the Sea of Marmara, backed by all the water in the connected seas of the entire world, was at the brink of the Bosporus dam, ready to breach that natural barrier and flow with unimaginable force into the Bosporus valley and down to the Black Sea lake, about five hundred feet below.

          The people of the Bosporus valley would have been aware of the rising waters on the other side of the Bosporus dam. At first, the ocean water would have lapped and trickled over the natural dam, but with so vast a quantity of water pressing against the earthen divide, the flow, once it began, would have quickly developed into violent torrent, sweeping away the natural dam and raging down into the valley at a rate two hundred times greater than that of the water that flows over Niagara Falls. Even as the saltwater torrent roared down into the freshwater Black Sea lake, killing the freshwater species inhabiting the lake, the Black Sea itself began to rise six inches per day, rapidly inundating the entire valley.

          The people who lived in the area of the Black Sea lake would have had sufficient warning to realize that they must flee, and that they would never be able to return, for the world as they knew it would soon come to an end. They would have packed up seeds and domesticated animals, and anything of value that they could carry with them, knowing that once they reached the safety of high ground they would have to begin the world over again.

          As they fled, they would have heard the mighty roar of the torrent that raced like a gigantic, raging serpent, twisting its way through the valley and to the Black Sea lake below. Everything they once knew would have rapidly disappeared beneath the rising, expanding waters of the new saltwater sea. It must have seemed to them as if an angry god had opened the earth and released the raging waters of the deep. Such a cataclysmic flood would naturally give rise to stories of the sort found in Genesis, in The Epic of Gilgamesh, and in The Deluge.  The peoples who produced these great flood epics were those who settled in areas where yearly floods--as of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers--would have presented an occasion for the telling and retelling of the story of the Great Flood, fixing the tale forever in the oral tradition of the people.

          According to Pitman's and Ryan's calculations, the violence of the inflow from the sea would have continued unabated for perhaps ten or eleven months, until the level of the lake had risen about 180 feet. As it continued to rise, the rate of flow would gradually have diminished, but would not have ceased for at least two years, until the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, created in a basin in the Azov plain by the overflow of the Black Sea through the Kerch Strait to the north, were both at the same level as the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, which were entering by way of the Sea of Marmara through the Bosporus Strait.

          Eventually the flood would have come to an end, and the strange flow pattern of waters through the Bosporus Strait would have been established: fresher, lighter Black Sea water flows southward out of the Bosporus Strait at the surface, while the heavier, saltier Mediterranean water flows northward, in along the bottom of the channel.

          The evidence for this mighty flood and its connection to the Great Flood of ancient myth and legend is of several different types. The existence of numerous flood myths with strikingly similar structures was just a tantalizing clue until deep water research techniques made it possible to sample sediments from deep in the Black Sea, as well as evidence from around the world for a four-hundred-foot drop in sea level at precisely the right time to shrink the Black Sea lake and isolate it five hundred feet below the Bosporus dam. Scientists have accumulated evidence of changing shorelines and of the sudden replacement of freshwater species in the Black Sea with saltwater species, dated at 5,600 b.c. Deep water imaging techniques have also allowed researchers to identify an anomalously deep and narrow channel cut into the bedrock of the Bosporus Strait, just as would be expected if such a mighty torrent had flowed through the channel.

          Archaeological evidence from northern Europe, the Mediterranean, and Mesopotamia provides proof of massive immigration, as if a great diaspora occurred near the middle of the sixth millennium b.c. All of a sudden, all over Europe and the Mideast, new and more advance cultures appear suddenly, quite distinct from those that preceded them, and with no sign of having developed out of the earlier cultures at those sites. In each case, the new cultures bring not only advanced pottery and building techniques, as well as sophisticated decorative styles, but also agriculture, which they introduced where it had never been known before. Alien domesticates also show up suddenly, as if an entirely new people had arrived, either as immigrants or as invaders, bringing with them the plants and animals they had raised in their original homeland.

          It is Pitman's and Ryan's contention, well-supported not just by literary, archaeological, and anthropological evidence, but also by data collected over decades by innumerable experts from many different nations and from a wide variety of scientific fields, that the story of Noah's Flood, as well as the similar Great Flood episodes in other ancient literatures, is the mythological representation of a mighty real-life flood that occurred 7,600 years ago, in 5,600 b.c., when rising sea levels caused the Mediterranean/Aegean Sea to burst through the natural earthen dam that blocked the Bosporus and to rage into the valley of the freshwater Black Sea lake, until the entire basin, and that of the Azov plain beyond, were filled with seawater and connected to the world ocean.

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