Synopses & Reviews
For thousands of years, the legend of a great flood has endured in the biblical story of Noah and in such Middle Eastern myths as the epic of Gilgamesh. Few believed that such a catastrophic deluge had actually occurred. But now two distinguished geophysicists have discovered an event that changed history, a sensational flood 7,600 years ago in what is today the Black Sea.
Ancient clay tablets excavated from the ruins of biblical Nineveh more than a hundred years ago revealed a much older version of the same flood legend. Archaeologists searched the length and breadth of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia for evidence of such a flood, to no avail. Then, as earth scientists made new discoveries about the history of rapid climate change, they learned that the Mediterranean had once been a desert and that five million years ago, the Atlantic Ocean burst through the Strait of Gibraltar and refilled the Mediterranean basin. William Ryan and Walter Pitman posed the scientific question "Could some more recent, similar catastrophe have been the source of Noah's Flood?"
The end of the Cold War enabled Ryan and Pitman to team up with oceanographers from Bulgaria and Russia, as well as Turkey, to explore the Black Sea. Using sound waves and coring devices to probe the sea floor, they discovered clear evidence that this inland body of water had once been a vast freshwater lake lying hundreds of feet below the level of the world's rising oceans. Sophisticated dating techniques confirmed that 7,600 years ago the mounting seas had burst through the narrow Bosporus valley, and the salt water of the Mediterranean had poured into the lake with unimaginable force, racing over beaches and up rivers, destroying or chasing all life before it. The margins of the lake, which had been a unique oasis, a Garden of Eden for an advanced culture in a vast region of semidesert, became a sea of death. The people fled, never to return.
The authors explore the exciting archaeological, genetic, and linguistic evidence suggesting that the flood rapidly created a human diaspora that spread as far as Western Europe, Central Asia, China, Egypt, and the Persian Gulf. They suggest that the Black Sea People could well have been the mysterious proto-Sumerians, who developed the first great civilization in Mesopotamia, the source of our own.
Could the people who fled the Black Sea Flood and their descendants have preserved for thousands of years the stories that became the myths we know today? Ryan and Pitman show how illiterate storytellers in our own century still recited tales thousands of lines in length that had been transmitted down through the ages with remarkable fidelity. So, they argue, the mythology of the Great Flood is an oral narrative, preserving the memory of a traumatic event -- the great divide in human history.
Noah's Flood is solidly grounded in contemporary science. It is an astonishing story that sheds new light on our roots and gives fresh meaning to ancient myths.
About the Author
William B. F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman are senior scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University. Pitman is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and both authors have received the Shepard Medal for exemplary research in marine geology.
Table of Contents
List of Maps
Note to the Reader
ONE: THE DISCOVERY OF THE FLOOD STORY
1 Deciphering the Legend
3 Visions of Palaces
4 The Face of the Deep
5 Ur of the Chaldees
TWO: THE DISCOVERY OF A REAL FLOOD
6 Hidden River
7 Gibraltar's Waterfall
8 Vanished Deserts
9 Pontus Axenus
10 Red Hill
13 Close Encounter
15 Back of the Envelope
THREE: WHO WAS THERE, AND WHERE DID THEY GO?
16 Anybody There?
17 The Diaspora
18 Family Trees
19 The Guslar's Song
FOUR: THE FLOOD STORIES TOLD
20 On a Golden Pond
21 Other Myths
Epilogue: A Telling of Atrahasis
List of Maps
Mesopotamia and the Levant
The voyage of the Chain up the Bosporus in 1961
The Glomar Challenger drilling the floor of the Mediterranean Sea in 1970
The Atlantis II mapping and sampling the seabed of the Black Sea in 1969
The Kerch Strait and the path of the ancient Don River
The path of meltwater delivered from the Eurasian ice sheet, beginning around 12,500 B.C.
The historical connection of the Black Sea to the Mediterranean
Anatolia at the time farming began to spread
Inferred human migrations west and northwest into Europe in the wake of the Black Sea flood
Inferred human migrations northeast into Asia and southeast into the Levant, Egypt, and Mesopotamia
The Takla Makan desert of western China with the shoreline of the giant lake that formerly filled the Tarim Basin
A Sumerian map of their world