The Japan Times
September 15, 2000

Human artifacts found at bottom of Black Sea

Evidence of disastrous flood 7,000 years ago may coincide with Bible story of Noah

WASHINGTON (AP) Artifacts and an ancient building found at the bottom of the Black Sea provide new evidence that humans faced a great flood, perhaps that of the biblical Noah, thousands of years ago, the discoverers say.

Remnants of human habitation were found in over 100 meters of water about 19.2 km off the coast of Turkey, undersea explorer Robert Ballard said Tuesday.

"There's no doubt about it, it's an exciting discovery," Ballard said in a telephone interview from his research ship. "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, chief archaeologist for the Black Sea project, said from the ship, "This find represents the first concrete evidence for the occupation of the Black Sea coast prior to its flooding."

Many ancient Middle Eastern cultures have legends of a great flood, including the Bible story of Noah.

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 kilometers out from the current Black Sea coast. His new discovery provides evidence that people once lived in that now inundated region.

Ballard, a National Geographic Society explorer in residence, said he had 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 back 6,500 years, while the freshwater shells all date to 7,000 years ago and older.

"So," he said Tuesday, "we know that there was a sudden and dramatic change from a freshwater lake to a saltwater sea 7,000 years ago.

"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, using remote-controlled underwater vessels with cameras, located a former river valley beneath the sea and in that valley was a collapsed structure, including some preserved wooden beams that had been 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 said.

It contained a stone chisel and two other stone tools with holes drilled through them, he said, adding that 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," he said.

The group is now mapping the site and looking for other structures in the area.

"This is a work in progress," Ballard said. "It is critical to know the exact era of the people who lived there, and to that end we hope to re cover artifacts and wood for carbon dating so we can figure out what sort of people lived there and the nature of their tools."

The discovery occurred within Turkey's coastal waters.

Ballard said Wednesday he would ask Turkish authorities to allow his team to recover samples, rather than simply look. They hadn't asked for such a permit before, he said, because they never imagined making such a discovery.

Turkey's Culture Ministry refused to comment on the findings, but authorities appeared likely to grant permission for more research.

"It is not really possible for us to carry out this expedition with the technology available to us," said Harun Ozbas, a representative of the Turkish Directorate of Monuments and Museums.

A WOODEN BEAM is shown among other signs of human habitation found 900 meters below surface of the Black Sea. The discovery, linked by scientists to a disastrous flood about 7,000 years ago, was reported by underwater explorer Robert Ballard on Tuesday. REUTERS PHOTO