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Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About The Event That Changed History Paperback – January 25, 2000
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David Brown The Washington Post A fascinating lesson in geology, oceanography, archaeology, and inductive reasoning.
Amanda Heller The Boston Globe A complex but thoroughly plausible solution to this intriguing mystery in a narrative of surprisingly dramatic intensity.
Philip Morrison and Phylis Morrison Scientific American As engaging as it is important...exciting...full of surprises, rivalries, and partnerships.
Richard Ellis The New York Times Book Review An interesting and provocative story...Ryan and Pitman have thoroughly researched every aspect of this intricately woven story. They are articulate, enthusiastic, and dedicated.
From the Back Cover
Over the millennia, the legend of a great deluge has endured in the biblical story of Noah and in such Middle Eastern myths as the epic of Gilgamesh. Now two distinguished geophysicists have discovered a catastrophic event that changed history, a gigantic flood 7,600 years ago in what is today the Black Sea.
Using sound waves and coring devices to probe the sea floor, William Ryan and Walter Pitman revealed 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 rim of the lake, which had served as an oasis, a Garden of Eden for farms and villages in a vast region of semi-desert, became a sea of death. The people fled, dispersing their languages, genes, and memories.
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"All myths are based on at least some actual history." With this bit of conventional wisdom in mind, William Ryan and Walter Pitman, both with Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, take us on a multi-disciplinary tour of the waning centuries of the last glaciation, including one of the most traumatic events in human history, the flooding of the immense freshwater glacial lake "Euxine" by the Mediterranean Sea, and its sudden conversion (and expansion) into the poisonous, treacherous Black Sea.
The authors weave together History, Archaeology, Linguistics, Paleo-Anthropology, Geology, Marine Geology, Organic Chemistry, Biology, and Marine Biology into a seamless, elegant tapestry. The writing is fluid and graceful, at times even poetic. The erudition is impressive but never oppressive; we get the sense that they had a lot of fun researching & writing the book (in spite of one of them apparently having lost a son at far too young an age), which makes it fun for us as well. There is enough technical detail to make their case, without getting bogged down - I don't believe the technical stuff should be a problem for any reasonably intelligent reader. There are copious maps and diagrams, and as a charming bonus, the illustrations are all done in free-hand black waterpaint - no photographs. Lastly, the bibliographical notes are exhaustive - at least a half-dozen books that I feel I can't live without.
Recommendation: If any of the above-listed topics interest you, buy it. Easily one of my 10 best reads of the last 5 years.
If you'd like a little more detail, please read on:
We are also given a concise survey of the beginnings of paleo-human research in the 19th century. As is well known, flood stories are ubiquitous across Eurasia, starting with our oldest epic, Gilgamesh, and the authors do an excellent job of conveying the mounting excitement in Europe as expedition after expedition sent back reports and artifacts confirming the historicity of the biblical flood (of course by the end of the 19th century this excitement would be tempered by the realization that flood stories were not confined to the Judeo-Christian world, and in fact were almost universal).
Serendipitously, one of the authors was a junior researcher on the sea-floor coring & mapping expedition of the late `60s that discovered the mother of all floods, the Gibraltar waterfall of some five-million years ago which re-filled the Mediterranean Basin - it had been isolated from the Atlantic several million years before by the collision of North Africa and Spain and was completely desiccated. Imagine what a furnace that must have been, with an average depth of almost a mile and the Calypso Deep over three miles deep! (the Black Sea & Caspian Sea basins are also remnants of the ancient Sea of Tethys, which was "balkanized" by the collision of three crustal plates) And then a waterfall that refilled the basin in less than a century and probably made the ground shake for a thousand miles. If any of our hominid ancestors were in North Africa by then they must have been terrified.
Having laid a solid foundation of scholarship, physical evidence and analytical techniques, Ryan and Pitman then consider the evidence for the Black Sea flood being The Flood. Very contrary to the Publisher's Weekly review above, the case is compelling - close to airtight in fact - and multi-threaded: Oral tradition, physical evidence and linguistics all point to a traumatic event and subsequent diaspora in the correct epoch; Germanic settlements have been identified as far away as the Takla Makan desert in western China. The physical evidence for a flooded shoreline and enlargement of the lake is irrefutable; evidence for a poisonous layer-cake combination of fresh water & salt water is well attested, both from modern testing and oral tradition (again, as far back as the Gilgamesh epic). Recent soundings of the Bosporus Strait have confirmed that the deep inner channel was gouged. Drowned villages have been found as far as twenty miles off-shore.
Too, there is corroborating evidence in other floods - the mega-floods of the American northwest, including the channeled scablands of eastern Washington state, the Younger Dryas era which may have been caused by the collapse of the ice dam impounding glacial lake Agassiz, which engulfed the entire modern great lakes; and just this year, the discovery that the English Channel was gouged by a monster flood - another ice dam collapse. The Black Sea Flood was a special case where the world's oceans were literally beating down the door of a freshwater glacial lake, but there must have been thousands of collapsed ice-dam floods along the latitudes of the retreating glaciers. This raises the possibility of a new line of research, a new earth sciences sub-discipline - Eluvieology or something - which would also combine Archaeology, paleo-anthropology, and the exact earth sciences.
The complaint that there is too much about the researchers have apparently not read many of the "just the facts" books. I have, when I can stomach them. A dull recitation of facts followed by a conclusion does not make for a good read. I am a scientist, and they bore *me* silly. This is told primarily as an adventure, but also a mystery, partly from the point of view of the affected peoples, but also from the point of view of the many researchers who filled in pieces of the puzzle, whether they were linguists, archaeologists, geologists, physicians (studying DNA to investigate ancient migrations), or climatologists.
I am rewarded each time I pick up this and re-read it.
They have dated the event to 7,500 years ago when humans, already engaged in agriculture, would have thickly populated the area, in response to the drought. An overwhelming event like this would surely have been recorded in the oral history and eventually came down to us in the Bible. As Elizabeth and Paul Barber point out in "When They Severed Earth from Sky" there are numerous mechanisms that condense and shape such stories of real events into myths. They are too important to be forgotten but over millennia they become coded.
In a kind of Tower of Babel effect, Ryan and Pitman imagine that this event propelled the migrations that may have spread agriculture into Europe and started the Semites, the Proto-Indo Europeans and the pre-dynastic Egyptians, among others, on their way. While there must have been a ripple effect from such a disaster, I think that is a stretch. In any case I plan to read more about that era, and reread the book just in case they are right about that too.