COMPELLING evidence that there was a Great Flood, as told in the Old Testament story of Noah's Ark, has been found far below the waters of the Black Sea by an American expedition. Underwater surveyors, led by Robert Ballard, the renowned oceanographer who found the Titanic and other sunken ships of the 20th century, have discovered an ancient coastline at a depth of 450ft.
"I am not sure whether it is Noah's flood or not Noah's flood, but I do buy that there was a flood," said David Mindell, one of the surveyors.
The Ballard team was working from a theory about the biblical flood of antiquity propounded by two marine geologists from Columbia University in New York, William Ryan and Walter Pittman, in their new book, Noah's Flood. As Dr Ballard explained; "During the last great Ice Age glaciers advanced across the surface of the world. That lowered the sea level 400ft. Then, 12,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age, the glaciers began to retreat." With its lower sea level, the eastern Mediterranean was cut off from the Black Sea so that when the oceans started to rise, the Black Sea did not. Dr Ballard continued: "Around 7,600 years ago, guess what happens? The Mediterranean breaks through a natural dam at the Bosphorus and catastrophically floods the land surface. People living there are 400ft below sea level and in trouble. They are facing a flood equal to 10,000 Niagara Falls."
This flood was on a far greater scale(?) than the one described in Genesis, which is said to have lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, covering every living thing on Earth beneath 24ft of water other than Noah, his family and his pairs of animals carried to safety on the ark.
In the new theory, it is believed that each day for two years ten cubic miles of ocean water cut through the widening Bosphorus channel as it flowed into what was then a fresh water lake, raising the level by six inches a day. The incoming salt water, more dense than the fresh water it displaced, plunged to the bottom of the lake bed, transforming it into a sea where the depths support no life. This area of inert darkness is known as an abyss that is anoxic, meaning that the trapped water could not circulate and has lost its oxygen, according to an account in yesterday's Washington Post. "Such conditions exist nowhere else in the world," Dr Ballard told the newspaper.
The theory supposes that in this dead zone wooden ships will be preserved intact, possibly still with their Bronze Age sails, and just waiting for Dr Ballard and his team. "I want to find the story of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece," he said. But this search for ancient mariners may have to wait until next year when Dr Ballard wants to employ the US Government's remotely operated undersea exploration vehicle. The explorers are convinced that there may be many ships on the bottom because the Black Sea served as a commercial waterway from Ancient Greece to Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire. But the waters were known to be hazardous, according to Roman historians.
For his expedition, Dr Ballard has attracted marine archaeologists who had viewed him sceptically as a treasure hunter but he has not enriched himself by taking artefacts from the Titanic nor his other great finds, the liners Lusitania and Andrea Doria, and the German battleship Bismarck and the American aircraft carrier Yorktown.
Dr Ballard has participated in 120 deep-sea expeditions. This summer he found two Phoenician vessels more than 3,000 years old.
Previously discovered wrecks:
1985: Wreck of Titanic located by Franco-American expedition led by Dr Robert Ballard
1988: Wreck of Central America with $1bn of gold discovered
1988: Wreck of 2,500-year-old Phoenician cargo ship discovered
1989: Wreck of Bismarck discovered
1999: Wrecks of 2 ships nearly 3,000 years old discovered in Mediterranean