The Deluge of Noah has long been one of the points of tension between geology and Christianity. Scientific diluvianism--the theory that the earth's history was shaped by a universal flood--collapsed in the early 19th century, well before Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species
. Since that time, scientists and historians have assumed that the flood story derived from local events in Mesopotamia.
In 1997, geologists Walter Pitman and William Ryan proposed the first truly novel interpretation of the flood in over 150 years. Their studies of sediments in the Black Sea convinced them that the body had been a freshwater lake until about 5600 B.C. When the rising waters of the Mediterranean broke through the Bosporus, "ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls."
With great intellectual daring, Pitman and Ryan have moved outside of their academic niche to suggest that this event had enormous consequences for human history. They marshal evidence from archeology, mythology, linguistics, and agriculture to describe a flood-driven diaspora of early farmers. Subsets of these people became (variously) proto-Indo-Europeans, Sumerians, Beaker People, Vincas, Tocharians--the founders of the early cultures of Europe and western Asia. --Mary Ellen Curtin
From Publishers Weekly
Archeologists have long sought to prove that the great flood described in Genesis and in the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh was a historic event. Columbia University geologists Ryan and Pitman weigh in with a highly conjectural theory that seems as good as any other, if no better. Around 5600 B.C., they maintain, Noah's flood occurred when rising Mediterranean waters roared through the narrow Bosporus Strait, transforming the Black Sea, then a freshwater lake, into a bloated saltwater body. Taking a cue from Australian prehistorian Gordon Childe, who posited that Europe's first farmers came from Asia, the authors contend that the Black Sea at the time of the alleged flood was a fertile oasis, a cultural magnet where diverse peoples?farmers, animal breeders, artisans?exchanged techniques and possibly genes. They point to the sudden appearance in Europe, shortly after 5600 B.C., of "outsider" tribes, advanced farmers who, the theory goes, were fleeing the flooded Black Sea region. Other flood refugees, in this scenario, migrated to Russia's steppes, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and the Middle East, preserving memory of the catastrophe in mythic and oral traditions later enshrined on clay tablets and ultimately in the Bible. Ryan and Pitman base their theory partly on radiocarbon dating of marine sediments that they collected in 1993 during a Black Sea expedition and partly on Ice Age climatic patterns, modern linguists' quest for a proto-Indo-European mother tongue and genetic studies of population migrations over the millennia. Their complicated detective tale is intriguing, but much more solid evidence would be required to convince skeptics. Illustrated with drawings by Anastasia Sotiropoulos and maps by William Haxby. Agent, Roger Jellinek.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.