Monday, 1 June 2015

Was Noah’s Flood the Black Sea?

According to the Black Sea deluge hypothesis rising sea levels approximately 7,000 years ago caused water to burst through Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait rapidly swelling a lake and becoming the basis for the Noah story. During a quest to drive full circle around the Black Sea, Simon Raven and Chris Raven, drop by Sinop in northern Turkey.

A wild stretch of Turkey's Black Sea coast. Photo by Simon Raven 

Extract from the book: BLACK SEA CIRCUIT 
By Simon Raven, Chris Raven

Hurtling through the lush green countryside, we arrive in the ancient port city of Sinop around mid-morning. Chris parks the Volvo in the shadow of the Kumkapi “Sand Gate”; a later addition to a once grand 2km fortified wall around the city that was built around 72 BC by the great Pontic king Mithridates VI. According to archaeological evidence the Hittities first built a fortification in Sinop in 2000 BC, which had gradually been replaced over the many centuries by the Pontics, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuk Turks and Ottomans; each warring Empire toppling the next in an eternal cycle of power hungry humans.

Navigating the streets using a tourist map, I follow Chris through one of the seven original gates into the old walled part of the city. We emerge into a tranquil square that is dominated by half a dozen shops selling model ships. Reaching the waterfront, we sit outside a bustling restaurant on the quayside and watch luxury sailboats and yachts bobbing up and down in the marina. In 1999, maritime explorer Bob Ballard led an expedition off the coast of Sinop. His mission was to search the floor of the Black Sea in the hope of finding the remains of ancient settlements, and discover evidence that would support an exciting new theory known as the Black Sea Deluge Hypothesis. Published in 1997 by geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman, the Black Sea deluge hypothesis proposed that a cataclysmic flood had struck this region around 7,000 years ago, swelling the sea and ultimately becoming the basis of the Noah story. The result of Ballard’s awe-inspiring expedition to the bottom of the seabed revealed that an ancient untouched shoreline was indeed submerged underwater. If this discovery alone wasn’t intriguing enough, the specimens of shells from freshwater and saltwater mollusk species, collected by the team from the sea floor, had shown through radiocarbon dating that a freshwater lake had indeed been overwhelmed by the Black Sea.

A National Geographic article on Ballard’s expedition reveals that, “Almost every culture on Earth includes an ancient flood story. Details vary, but the basic plot is the same: Deluge kills all but a lucky few.” The story most known to people today is the biblical account of Noah and the Ark, but earlier than Genesis is the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, about a king who set off on a quest to find the answer to immortality. During his odyssey, he met Utnapishtim, survivor of a great flood sent by the gods. Utnapishtim had been forewarned by the god of water, Enki, and had escaped death by building a boat. His actions had saved his family, friends, along with animals, artisans and precious metals. Fascinated to discover evidence of legends and folklore that pre-date the New Testament, the article also reveals that in Ancient Greek and Roman folklore the story of Deucalion and Pyhrra also existed, about a family and a group of animals who survived a flood in a box shaped ship. The thought that a monstrous flood could have occurred here on the Black Sea 7,000 years ago, has both myself and Chris grinning at the possibility that there may have been some truth in the stories and legends born in this region.

After the last Ice Age, the planet experienced a rapidly changing landscape. It is known that events such as the “Big Freeze” had taken place between approximately 10800-9500 BC; a period of cold climatic conditions and drought, which is thought to have been caused by the collapse of the North American ice sheets. According to the Black Sea deluge hypothesis, changes in world-wide hydrology around 5600 BC caused overall sea levels to rise, and may have been responsible for the Mediterranean finally spilling over a rocky sill at the Bosphorus. According to Ryan and Pitman, a volume of water 200 times the flow of the Niagara Falls, would have surged into the Black Sea for at least three hundred days. This catastrophic event would have significantly expanded the Black Sea shoreline (which was a glacial lake at the time) to the north and west. I glance across the calm surface of the water with new vision, and try to imagine the ancient farmland, settlements and thriving rural communities that are now located deep under water.

Continuing our stroll along the waterfront, we pass a row of tourist excursion boats and check out the Sehitler Çesmesi “Martyrs' Fountain”. This simple stone block fountain was built in memory of the Turkish soldiers who died when the Russian Black Sea Fleet, under the command of Admiral Nakhimov, destroyed an Ottoman frigate squadron in 1853. This surprise attack on Sinop sparked the beginning of the Crimean War. Discovering the fountain was built using money recovered from the soldiers' pockets, I look in the direction of Crimea where our journey had first begun. In the distant past, the Greeks had referred to these waters as “Pontos Axinos” (Inhospitable Sea). Having learnt about the countless wars and massacres in this region during our journey, this description begins to resonate. Whether the Black Sea formed suddenly in a deluge 7,000 years ago, or, as some scientists believe, occurred slowly over time, the fact remains that the existence of this huge inland sea had caused hosts of civilisations over thousands of years to gather around its shores. Watching a small sailboat drift out of the harbour, Chris is reminded of Greek mythological tales warning sailors of mermaids luring their ships onto the rocks. These stories suddenly have new meaning. Seduced by this sea’s promise of rich fishing grounds, fertile steppes and rivers of gold, the Black “Inhospitable” Sea exists at the crossroads of migrating civilisations, where those who establish empires here, discover only too late the dangers of others inhabiting this region at the central point of humanity. Sterile below the surface, with virtually no life existing below the depths of 150-200 metres, we begin to realise this sea isn’t blue or black – its blood red.

by Simon Raven, Chris Raven

Order your copy online from Amazon and all major book retailers. ISBN 9780954884284.

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