for National Geographic News
Ancient stories of massive floods pass from generation to generation and in many places in the world are integral to a people's spoken history.
The tales differ by locale, but commonly feature torrential rains or a hugely destructive wall of water bursting into a valley, destroying everything in its path. In many cases, the flooding is an act of retribution by displeased gods.
Many scientists, historians and archaeologists view these enduring tales as short, dramatised versions of the memory of rising seas at the end of the Ice Age. Like all good stories, they are rich with local drama, religious legends, and moral principles.
While images of catastrophic floods are popular, many scholars argue that the real rising sea level slowly invaded the Stone Age hunting territories for thousands of years, and the stories compress this event into overnight floods, storms, and destruction.
Recent undersea findings may yield new clues to the study of human habitations that now lie beneath the waves.
Cuba's Sunken City
Deep in the waters of Cabo de San Antonio, off Cuba's coast, researchers are exploring unusual formations of smooth blocks, crests, and geometric shapes. The Canadian exploration company that discovered the formations, Advanced Digital Communications, has suggested that they could be the buildings and monuments of an early, unknown American civilization.
Many scientists are skeptical of any theory that might tempt people to draw a parallel with the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Geologist Manuel Iturralde, however, has stressed the need for an open mind while investigations of the site continue.
"These are extremely peculiar structures, and they have captured our imagination," said Iturralde, who is director of research at Cuba's Natural History Museum. Iturralde has studied countless underwater formations over the years, but said, "If I had to explain this geologically, I would have a hard time."
In his report on the formations, Iturralde noted that conclusive proof of man-made structures on the site could reinforce some oral traditions of the Maya and native Yucatecos. These people still retell ancient stories of an island inhabited by their ancestors that vanished beneath the waves.
Iturralde makes it clear, however, that just because no natural explanation is immediately apparent, it doesn't rule one out. "Nature is able to create some really unimaginable structures," he said.
Further research is scheduled to take place over the summer. Data thus far has been collected using sonar scans and video. The structures are buried under 1,900 to 2,500 feet (600 to 750 meters) of water.
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