Why the Black Sea is not the Site of Noah's Flood.

By G.R. Morton

Copyright 1998,2002 G.R. Morton

This may be freely distributed so long as no alterations to the text or monetary charges are made.

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In 1997, William Ryan and colleagues suggested that the partial filling of the Black Sea 7150 years ago was the source of the legend for Noah's flood. They suggest that the flood spread farmers throughout Europe and moved people out of the Black Sea to the south, carrying the legend with them. I don't think this will work for several reasons.  It doesn't match the description of the Biblical flood. If all we Christians want is a flood, any old flood regardless of what it is like the this will do as well as the next flood. But if we want to match the Biblical account, the Black Sea Flood won't do at all.

[That was writtein in 1998. In Oct 2002, as documented below, Marine Geology dedicates an entire issue to the Black Sea Flood hypothesis.  Almost all authors are negative. The paper which includes William Ryan as an author doesn't mention or defend the Noah's Flood hypothesis, which is surprising since he is one of the authors of that hypothesis. This is usually a sign that the idea is no longer supported.]

1. Since the total amount of rise in water is very small, an ark would be needless. On the south shore of the Black Sea, the -400 ft contour is only 24 miles from the present coastline. Since it is unlikely that the animals found at the old shoreline were significantly different from the animals found only 24 miles away, there would be no need to take animals on board an ark.

2. The 400 foot rise in water level would not cover anything that could be described as a mountain, especially given the topography of the coastal plain that would have surrounded the old Black Sea.

3. While temporally it fits the preconception of most Christians, it has a number of problems. The rate of infill would not be very great--about 1 foot per day for a total of about a 400 foot rise in the level of the Black Sea over the year "We interpret the instantaneous submergence of a broad former land surface of 100,000 km2 as the consequence of Mediterranean waters invading an isolated inland lake whose surface had been drawn down beyond its shelf break by evaporation and reduced river input. Such a cascade, one underway, would possess the power to further enlarge its orifice through positive-feedback erosion. The bedrock cross-sections of the SOI- Bosporus and SOC-Dardanelles observed at dozens of points along their lengths present a flume capable [of] delivering a flux in excess of 50 km3 per day, initially filling the lake at a rate approaching 10's of cm/day." ~ William B. F. Ryan et al, "An Abrupt Drowning of the Black Sea Shelf," Marine Geology, 138(1997), 119- 126, p. 124

And this would not cause rain nor cover any real hills (the slope of the land is rather low in that area), much less mountains. Also, my company does work in the Caspian which also has a gentle slope. We are trying to drill a well off shore and have to somehow get a drilling rig across the water to a man-made island. However, on days that the wind blows east, there is no water as far as the eye can see! When the wind stops, the water comes back. When it blows from the west, the water is deeper. Because of this phenomenon on a gently sloping lake edge, it probably would have occurred in the lowered Black Sea which then makes the explanation problematical. Ryan et al, suggest that farmers were flooded out at the edge of the sea. But it is difficult to farm when one day there is no water and the next there is water and the day after there is deep water. Thus I doubt the existence of a huge farming community along the shallow, gently sloping edges of the Black Sea as this theory requires. Also, all in all, I am not sure that it would have been written up the way that it has come down to us, IF the Black Sea flood was the basis of the event.

In their book, Noah's Flood, they cite an even slower rate of filling for the Black Sea basin . They claim the sea would have risen 330 feet in two years which works out to .45 feet per day. (See Ryan and Pitman, Noah's Flood, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998), p. 237). As we will see, this would make it even less likely for the Black Sea flood to have been the basis for the legend.

4. There is no source for the rainfall. It simply would be a coincidence.

5. There is one other fact about the Black Sea Flood which has come to my attention that may lessen the correlation of this event with the spread of farming and the origin of the Noah legend. Ryan et al, dated shells of Cerastoderma edule, Monodacna caspia and Mytius galloprovincialis which were taken from the base of a dark sapropel which immediately overlies the former coastal plain. The dates they got were 7150 BP. Due to the time needed to remove oxygen from the Black Sea waters, this date may easily represent two thousand years after the flood. Kerr notes,

"Others aren't so sure that the Black Sea flood was behind agriculture's spread. Arthur, for one, argues that the timing may be off. He notes that Pitman and Ryan date the flood to the same radiocarbon age as the first sediments laid down after the flooding, which were black and organic rich and therefore formed in conditions lacking oxygen. But Arthur thinks that the flooding may in fact have occurred 2000 years earlier. According to his geochemical model, that's how long it would take to remove all the oxygen from the dense, salty water that flowed into the deep Black Sea. If so, the flood would have been too early to account for the arrival of new farmers in Europe." ~ Richard A. Kerr, "Black Sea Deluge May Have Helped Spread Farming," Science, 279(1998):1132

6. I would also point out that on the southern part of the Black Sea the -400 foot contour is about 24 miles from the present coastline. Assuming a linear slope, the rise of 1 foot per day means that the shoreline moved 24/400=.06 miles per day. This is equivalent to moving about 3 houses down the street each day. And if their more recent, slower rate of infill is used as the basis for this calculation, the pre-flood Black Sea basin residents would only have to move 1.5 houses down the street each day. While this would be catastrophic if you had a farm that was about to be buried, I would expect that the event would have been written up as the great march rather than the great flood.

7. There is much geologic data which is inconsistent with their hypothesis. 

7 a. It appears from fossil fauna found in the sediment layers laid down immediately after the flood that the salinification of the sea took several hundred years. They point out (Noah's Flood, p. 153) that 20 feet of sediment has been deposited in the past 7500 years. This works out to .032 inches per year of new sediment.

The hard clay that represents the fresh water lake deposits contain a brown mussel called Dreissena rostiformis . Above this, at the base of the re-fill sediments a brackish-water Mediterranean species, Cerastoderma edule appeared as well as two other brackishwater species Dreissena polymorpha and Monodacna caspia. Cerastoderma edule could only have come from the Mediterranean. During the deposition of the next five inches of sediment, these brackish-water species were replaced by species fully adapted to life in the sea. These species are Mytilus gallopprovincialis, Alba ovata,Retusa truncatula and Parvicardium exiguum. These five inches of sediment imply that it took 156 years for the Black Sea to change from fresh-water to salt-water. This is much longer than should have been the case.

7 b. Secondly, there is the mystery of Emiliania huxleyi. This is a Mediterranean algae which is passive surface dweller. It can't swim and merely floats in the upper part of the ocean. Due to the fact that the surface waters of the Bosporus flows from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean it can't enter the Black Sea today. This algae did not enter the Black Sea until the seventh century B.C., nearly 5000 years after the time of the flood. This fact had been used in the past to argue that the Black Sea had gradually become more salty. Ryan and Pitman argue that the algae was unable to enter the Black Sea because the surface flow had kept it out. (Noah's Flood, p. 147). The problem with this suggestion is the mystery of why this passive surface dweller did not enter the Black Sea along with the Mediterranean waters when the catastrophic filling of the Black Sea was supposed to occur. A passive floating algae would be dragged along with the infilling waters and given the mixing of the fresh and saline waters, the Black Sea would have quickly become salty enough to support these marine algae. It would appear to this writer that there is a bit of an inconsistency in the explanation. Cerastoderma edule is able to immigrate but a tiny floating algae isn't. That doesn't make sense.

Given the late entry of Emiliania huxleyi into the Black Sea and the gradual change of salinity seen by the fauna found in the cores it would appear that the change from fresh to sea water in the Black Sea was not catastrophic but gradual .

7 c.  A recent article, Aksu et al, "Persistent Holocene Outflow from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean Contradicts Noah's Flood Hypothesis,"  GSA Today 12(2002):5:4-10, points out many geological facts which contradict the views of Ryan and Pitman.  Their data shows that the Black Sea has been continuously flowing out towards the Mediterranean Sea since 12,000 years ago.  Ryan and Pitman's hypothesis requires that at least at 7,500 BP the flow reversed contrary to the data of Aksu et al.  What is their data?

First, there is a Peridinium ponticum, a species which is endemic in the Black Sea (doesn't live in the Mediterranean or Sea of Marmara) which is found in the Sea of Marmara in sediment cores. The only way it could have gotten there is for water to have been flowing from the Black Sea towards the Mediterranean during the time these sediments were laid down.  That time was from 11,000 to 6,000 years ago.

Secondly, the Noah's flood hypothesis requires that the rivers which empty into the Black Sea were starved for water between 9 and 7.5 kyr ago. Yet the pollen data for southern Russia and the regions surrounding the Black Sea do not change to a more arid-tolerant vegetation. Indeed, there is no change at all.  If the surrounding areas were not dry, then the Black Sea would not have been dried up and had a lower water level than the Mediterranean at that time.  The pollen data doesn't support the view that there was a catastrophic infilling of the Black Sea.

Thirdly, pollen cores show no evidence of farming (or the consequent deforestation as the land is cleared) around the Black Sea until 4,000 years ago, which is long after the time Ryan and Pitman believe the farmers were scattered by the flood.

Fourthly, in the eastern Aegean Sea, core data clearly shows that the surface waters were brackish throughout the entire interval from 10,000 kyr  to the present.  The presence of a brackish-water dynocyst S. cruciformis in the sediments there clearly show a large influx of fresh water to the eastern Aegean.  There is only one source for this fresh water--the Black Sea.

Finally, Aksu et al write:

"Perhaps the best physical evidence for early and strong Black Sea outflow is a 10-9 ka delta lobe at the southern exit of the Bosphorus Strait (Fig. 4) . Its age is constrained by radiocarbon dates in the distal prodelta (Core 9, Fig. 4A ). The only source for the deltaic sediment is the strait itself. There is no shelf-edge delta here, only a mid-shelf delta with a topset-to-foreset transition that climbs in the seaward direction, indicating delta progradation into a rising water body."

This delta sits right at the mouth of the Bosphorus and points in the direction of the Mediterranean--opposite to the direction it should point if water flowed into the Black Sea. 

Aksu et al conclude:

"Seismic, geochemical, sediment, microfossil, and palynological data provide no support whatsoever for a catastrophic northward flow of saline Mediterranean water."

8. One prediction that Ryan and Pitman have made has turned out to be doubtful. They suggest that the Indo-European language split at the time of the Black Sea flood (see William Ryan and Walter Pitman, Noah's Flood, p. 194, pp 208-211). They write:

“Little but knowledge and skill could be rescued. Ryan and Pitman believe that the Semites and Ubaids fled southward to the Levant and Mesopotamia; the Kartvelians retreated to the Caucasus; the LBK dashed across Europe, leapfrogging from one site to the next, pushing ahead their frontier for reasons never adequately explained; the Vinca retreated upstream to the enclosed valley of the Hungarian plain. Others went to the Adriatic and the islands of the Aegean. Some refugees migrated into the heartland of Eurasia via the Don. Still others used the Volga as access to the distant steppes of the southern Ural Mountains. In due course the Indo-Europeans soon occupied an arc extending from the Adriatic, western Europe, and the Balkans across Ukraine to the Caspian Sea." William Ryan and Walter Pitman, Noah's Flood, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998), p. 213.

The problem is that Indo-European didn't split this early. James Trefil writes:

“Unfortunately, the evidence for this diaspora is a good deal less solid than the evidence for the flood itself. Linguists have long known how to reconstruct ancient languages by looking at words that have survived in the descendants of those languages today. The date of an event like the split-up of the Indo-European languages can then be estimated by comparing those words with artifacts found in excavations--a language probably won't have a word for 'wheel,' for example unless it actually uses wheeled vehicles. 'it is unlikely that the Indo-European languages split up before 3500 B.C. (that is, 2000 years after the Black Sea flood),' says University of Chicago linguist Bill Darden, basing his conclusion on this sort of argument. If he and his colleagues are right, then the diaspora part of the flood story will be just another beautiful theory shot down by ugly facts." James Trefil, "Evidence for a Flood," Smithsonian, April, 2000, p. 20

As mentioned above, it appears that Ryan is giving up on the concept of the infilling of the Black Sea as a source for the Noah's Flood story.  In October 2002, an entire issue of Marine Geology was devoted to the history of the Black Sea.  Aksu et al., write:

"A number of radiocarbon dates from gravity cores show that the sedimentary architecture of Unit 1 contain a detailed sedimentary record for the post-glacial sea-level rise along the southwestern Black Sea shelf. These data do not support the catastrophic refilling of the Black Sea by waters from the Mediterranean Sea at 7.1 ka postulated by [Ryan, Pitman, Major, Shimkus, Maskalenko, Jones, Dimitrov, Görür, Saknç, Yüce, Mar. Geol. 138 (1997) 119-126], [Ryan, Pitman, Touchstone Book (1999) 319 pp.], and [Ballard, Coleman, Rosenberg, Mar. Geol. 170 (2000) 253-261]." Aksu et al., "Seismic stratigraphy of Late Quaternary deposits from the southwestern Black Sea shelf: evidence for non-catastrophic variations in sea-level during the last ~10000 yr," Marine Geology,  190(2002):1-2:61-94 Marine Geology

In another article, Aksu et al. write:

"The presence of fauna and flora with Black Sea affinities and the absence of Mediterranean fauna and flora in sapropels M1 and M2 strongly suggest that communication existed with the Black Sea during these times. A benthic foraminiferal oxygen index shows that the onset of suboxic conditions in the Marmara Sea rapidly followed the establishment of fully marine conditions at ~11-10.5 ka, and are attributed to Black Sea outflow into the Marmara Sea since 10.5 ka. These suboxic conditions have persisted to the present. The data discussed in this paper are completely at odds with the `Flood Hypothesis' of Ryan et al. (1997), and Ryan and Pitman (1999)." Aksu et al. "Last glacial-Holocene paleoceanography of the Black Sea and Marmara Sea: stable isotopic, foraminiferal and coccolith evidence," Marine Geology,  190(2002):1-2:119-149 Marine Geology

Kaminski et al., show that the stratification of the Marmara Sea is incompatible with the Black Sea Flood hypothesis:

"Quantitative analysis of benthic foraminiferal morphogroups reveals that the oxygen content of sub-halocline water was low (below ~1.5 ml/l) throughout the Holocene, and the occurrence of sapropel sediment in the deeper part of the basin suggests bottom waters may have been anoxic at times. After ~4.5 ka, an increase in benthic foraminiferal oxic morphotypes suggests a reduction in Black Sea outflow and weakening of the halocline. The strong and persistent stratification of the water column in the Marmara Sea throughout the Holocene is entirely incompatible with the `Noah's Flood Hypothesis'." Kaminski et al. "Late Glacial to Holocene benthic foraminifera in the Marmara Sea: implications for Black Sea-Mediterranean Sea connections following the last deglaciation,"  Marine Geology,  190(2002):1-2:165-202. Marine Geology

Mudie et al, show that the Black Sea was never a freshwater lake as the Black Sea Noah's Flood hypothesis requires:

"Seismic profiles and mollusks have been used to suggest that from ~12500 to 7000 yr BP, the Black Sea was an isolated freshwater lake containing potable water and implying a surface salinity of <1. According to Ryan and Pitman (1999), these circumstances encouraged Neolithic settlement and farming on the shore of the Black Sea. This model conflicts with previous studies of dinoflagellate cysts and seismic profiles from the Marmara Sea. Here we investigate Ryan and Pittman's model using palynological studies of organic-walled dinoflagellate cysts, acritarchs, freshwater algae, microforaminifera, and fungal remains as tracers of changes in surface salinity for seven cores of pleniglacial to Holocene sediments from the Marmara and Black seas."
. . .
"Overall, there is no palynological evidence that the surface salinity of the Black or Marmara seas was ever as low as a freshwater lake. This finding is consistent with models that estimate the time required to desalinate the Black Sea after closing of the Marmara-Bosphorus gateway." Mudie et al., "Dinoflagellate cysts, freshwater algae and fungal spores as salinity indicators in Late Quaternary cores from Marmara and Black seas,"  Marine Geology,  190(2002):1-2:203-231. Marine Geology

Finally, even pollen evidence indicates that the farmers, postulated by Ryan and Pitman to have existed and spread the story of Noah's Flood, were not there on the Black Sea Floor at the time.  The area was forested, not farmed. Mudi et al write:

"Using the steppe-forest index of Traverse (1975), it is shown that the only intervals of severely dry conditions occurred briefly during the LGM and its transition; during most of the Pleniglacial and all of the Postglacial time, precipitation versus evaporation rates were sufficiently high to permit persistence of oro-Mediterranean forest vegetation. Furthermore, there is no evidence for environmental conditions in the Black Sea-Marmara region that would have encouraged pastoral or agricultural settlement in the littoral region prior to the Bronze Age, commencing 4600 years ago." Mudie, Rochan and Aksu, "Pollen stratigraphy of Late Quaternary cores from Marmara Sea: land-sea correlation and paleoclimatic history,"  Marine Geology,  190(2002):1-2:233-260. Marine Geology

Last Modified 12-15-02

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