by Sue Pleming
Reuters - September 13, 2000
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. explorers said on Wednesday they have found signs of human habitation hundreds of feet below the Black Sea where a catastrophic flood occurred about 7,500 years ago, which some scientists say is linked to the biblical story of Noah.
Explorer Robert Ballard, famous for discovering the wreck of the Titanic, said his National Geographic expedition found a ''rectangular structure,'' possibly that of a building, about 310 feet below the sea's surface, indicating people lived there before a massive flood inundated the area.
"We now know people were living on that surface when that event (the big flood) took place because we are now finding evidence of human habitation,'' said Ballard in a telephone interview from the Northern Horizon research ship, about 12 miles off the Turkish shore.
This is an incredible find. It's clear a vast amount of real estate is under water and that a vast amount of people were living around the Black Sea,'' said Ballard, adding that it was far more significant than his Titanic discovery in 1985.
Ballard said his team made its finding three days ago, in the second week of a five-week expedition. They hope to make more findings and will do precise mapping and photo documentation before anything is brought up to the surface.
"Our job is to find as many structures as we can, to explore them and to see what they tell us about the people that lived here and present that to the world and let the world draw it's own conclusions,'' he said. Ballard said it was too soon to say whether there was a link between the great flood he believes occurred in the Black Sea and the one depicted in the Bible.
"What we are trying to do is gather facts. We are testing that theory and so far we have not found any holes in it. We will continue to gather data,'' Ballard said.
The artifacts found by Ballard's team were captured by sonar and on pictures taken by a roving vehicle called Argus that is about the size of a washing machine and attached by fiber-optic cable to the research ship. The rectangular structure measures about 12-feet in width and is 45-feet long, with carved wooden beams, wooden branches and stone tools collapsed among the mud matrix.
"It's architecture and artifacts were of the Neolithic bronze age, which is from about 7,000 years ago,'' said Ballard. The team's chief archeologist, Fredrik Hiebert, described the finding as the ``Pompeii of landscapes'' and said it was typical of the wattle and daub homes seen on land.
"This is a major discovery that will begin to rewrite the history of cultures in this key area between Europe, Asia and the ancient Middle East,'' said Hiebert, an archeologist from the University of Pennsylvania.
"This looks to me, as an archeologist familiar with this region, like the typical architecture of the people who lived around the Black Sea,'' he said.
The cataclysmic flood in that area was tentatively linked to the biblical story of Noah in the book of Genesis by U.S. geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman of Columbia University in their 1997 book ``Noah's Flood."
The two geologists believe Noah's flood took place not in the Middle East, as might be assumed from reading the Bible, but in the area around the Black Sea.
The geologists theory of a great flood in the Black Sea was based on their discovery of a drowned landscape as seen in seismic profiles and sediment cores.
Pitman said he had ``never been so excited in his life'' as he was with Ballard's finding, adding that it would probably revive debate over his Noah's Flood theory.
"I certainly believed that there had to be people living there but finding the structure was like finding a needle in a haystack,'' Pitman said from his home in New York.
Ballard said the extraordinary state of preservation of the wood and other organic materials of such great age was most likely due to the site's closeness to the Black Sea's deeper, oxygen-free waters. Hiebert said it was possible human or animal bones could have survived in the waters because organic material that would typically disappear would have been preserved.
"We do think that human remains would be extremely well preserved, opening up the whole Pandora's box of DNA and discovering who these people truly were,'' said Hiebert.
Scientists believe the Black Sea was a freshwater lake until it was flooded by the Mediterranean Sea about 7,000 years ago. Ryan and Pitman's research showed today's Black Sea was transformed when melting glaciers raised the level of the Mediterranean, causing water to break through the strip of land separating the Mediterranean from the smaller freshwater lake.