for National Geographic News
The ancient flood that some scientists think gave rise to the Noah story may not have been quite so biblical in proportion, a new study says.
Researchers generally agree that, during a warming period about 9,400 years ago, an onrush of seawater from the Mediterranean spurred a connection with the Black Sea, then a largely freshwater lake. That flood turned the lake into a rapidly rising sea. (See a map of the region.)
A previous theory said the Black Sea rose up to 195 feet (60 meters), possibly burying villages and spawning the tale of Noah's flood and other inundation folklore.
(Related: "Noah's Flood" May Have Triggered European Farming" [November 20, 2007].)
But the new study—largely focused on relatively undisturbed underwater fossils—suggests a rise of no more than 30 feet (10 meters).
New Flood Evidence
Marine geologist Liviu Giosan and colleagues carbon-dated the shells of pristine mollusk fossils, which the researchers say bear no evidence of epic flooding.
Found in sediment samples taken from where the Black Sea meets the Danube River, the shells "weren't eroded, agitated, or moved," said Giosan, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. "We know the mud is exactly the same age as the shells and so can determine what the sea level was about 9,400 years ago."
The results suggest the Black Sea rose 15 to 30 feet (5 to 10 meters), rather than the 150 to 195 feet (50 to 60 meters) first suggested 13 years ago by Columbia University geologist William Ryan and colleagues. Ryan declined to be interviewed for this story.
Dueling Theories of Noah's Flood
In 1993 a Black Sea expedition found evidence of former shorelines and coastal dunes at depths of up to 390 feet (120 meters).
Researchers said these areas had been flooded when the Mediterranean and the Sea of Marmara—which lies between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea—breached a rocky barrier across the Bosporus, the Turkish strait that links the Maramara with the Black Sea.
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