A team of explorers from Bulgaria and the U.S. has found the first evidence that humans lived in an area now covered by the Black Sea that may have been inundated by the flood described in the Bible. Many ancient Middle Eastern cultures have legends of a great flood.
They are working on the theory that when glaciers melted at the end of the Ice Age, water flowing from the Mediterranean surged over the Bosporus at a speed 200 times greater than that of Niagara Falls. ?Our mission now is to find the ancient shore line 510 feet down and find evidence of human habitation before the flood,? says lead researcher Robert Ballard. ?We are undertaking the expedition thanks to maps prepared by Professor Petko Dimitrov and his colleagues, which show the ancient shoreline.? Dimitrov, who heads Bulgaria's Oceanological Institute, believed evidence of a lost civilization could be found in the deeps of the Black Sea.
The remnants of human habitation have been found in more than 300 feet of water about 12 miles off the coast of Turkey. ?Artifacts at the site are clearly well preserved, with carved wooden beams, wooden branches and stone tools,? says Ballard. ?We realize the broad significance the discovery has and we?re going to do our best to learn more.?
Fredrik Hiebert of the University of Pennsylvania, the team?s chief archaeologist, says the discovery ?represents the first concrete evidence for occupation of the Black Sea coast prior to its flooding. This is a major discovery that will begin to rewrite the history of the cultures in this key area between Europe, Asia and the ancient Middle East,? he says.
Columbia University researchers William Ryan and Walter Pittman speculated in their 1997 book Noah?s Flood that when the European glaciers melted, about 7,000 years ago, the Mediterranean Sea overflowed into what was then a smaller freshwater lake to create the Black Sea. Last year Ballard found indications of an ancient coastline miles out from the current Black Sea coast. The new discovery provides evidence that people once lived in that region, which is now covered in water.
Ballard, a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, says he studied shells found along the ancient coastline and found two types. One group is an extinct type of freshwater shell, while the second is from saltwater shellfish. The saltwater shells date from the present back 6,500 years, while the freshwater shells all date to 7,000 years ago and older. ?So we know that there was a sudden and dramatic change from a freshwater lake to a saltwater sea 7,000 years ago,? he says. ?And we know that as a result of that flood a vast amount of land went under water. And we now know that that land was inhabited. What we don't know is who these people are, we don?t know how broad their settlements were ... but we?re expanding our studies to try to determine that.?
Ballard said his team used remote-controlled underwater vessels with cameras to locate a former river valley beneath the sea. Remains found there include a collapsed structure containing preserved wooden beams that were worked by hand. The structure was ?clearly built by humans,? and was characteristic of stone-age structures built 7,000 years ago in the interior of Turkey, Ballard says. It contained a stone chisel and two other stone tools with holes drilled through them.
Nothing has been removed from the site. ?When you first find a site you don?t just run in there and start picking up things,? Ballard says. The group is now mapping the site and looking for other structures in the area. ?This is a work in progress," says Ballard. ?It is critical to know the exact era of the people who lived there, and to that end we hope to recover artifacts and wood for carbon dating so we can figure out what sort of people lived there and the nature of their tools.?
?The best place to find perfect ships is the Black Sea,? says Ballard. He is known for finding the remains of the ships Titanic, Bismarck and Yorktown. He operates the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut. The expedition was sponsored by the National Geographic Society, which is planning a book and television series on Ballard?s Black Sea research.
In 1999, Ballard?s team discovered a wooden ship in ?absolutely astounding? condition, despite being up to 1,500 years old. It was discovered in the Black Sea off the coast of Turkey. ?When archaeologists saw the ship, they said that it could have sunk a week ago,? Ballard says. The unique oxygen-free deep water of the Black Sea allowed the ship to be preserved without the normal worm damage that affects wooden vessels. Unlike other oceans, its deep water does not circulate and the lack of oxygen prevents the development of microorganisms that destroy shipwrecks. In addition to the preserved ship, three other wrecks were found in shallower water where there is some oxygen. Those suffered some worm damage.
These discoveries have caused some people to speculate that Noah?s Ark may lie somewhere in the depths of the Black Sea. Even if this particular flood was the basis of the Biblical myth, ?We don?t think that Noah?s Ark could be found,? Ballard says.
Deltcho Solakov, a researcher at the Bulgarian Oceanography Institute, points out that the Bible says that Mount Ararat, which is located south of the Black Sea in the Caucasus region, is the site of Noah?s ark.
Petko Dimitrov says, ?Organic sediment which develops in times of ecological catastrophe has been found. It dates back 7,000-8,000 years, and this is the time of the Flood attributed by the Bible.? He says that ?the oldest tomb discovered in Europe to this day? was discovered among a group of tombs near Varna, and believes it is proof that a lost civilization existed there.
This group of tombs, on display at an archaeological museum in Varna, dates back to 4600-4200 BC and contains 294 tombs and about 3,000 gold objects, 200 copper objects, various tools made of flint and stone and numerous religious and funerary objects. The most decorated tomb belonged to a middle-aged man, either a priest or tribal chief, who was buried surrounded by 900 gilded objects.
A Bulgarian-Russian expedition also unearthed a round vessel from the Black Sea in 1985. Made of clay and sand, its inscription has still not been deciphered, but it?s been nicknamed ?Noah's bowl? by archaeologists.
Much still remains to be explored in the area. According to Ballard, ?We have better maps of Mars than of the Black Sea.?
Read about Bob Ballar's Black Sea project here.
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