Wednesday, October 04, 2006

[Book Review] The Science of Noah's Flood (part 2 of 2)

The first part of this 2 part review can be found here. In this part, I conclude my review of Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About The Event That Changed History (Ryan and Pittman, 1998), and offer a list of references for those that seek further reading. This review is primarily about the book by Ryan and Pittman, but I review other literature on the topic as well. I hope someone finds the information useful or interesting and that it inspires others to read Noah's Flood, a book that I found quite engaging and worth the read.


In further attempt to test the catastrophic infill hypothesis, Mark Siddell of the Southampton Oceanography Centre, UK, developed a computer model that would test breaches of the Bosporus sill at various modeled depths of the Black sea, from 50 to 150 m. Siddell, Pratt, Helfrich, and Giosan's conclusions (2004) were that their model was consistent with the previously mysterious sharp left-turn of a submerged channel. The model's turbidity currents also provided a probable explanation for the large, 2000 m deep sea floor hills. Even Aksu conceded (Schiermeier, 2004) that Siddell's work was "solid oceanography."

Another of Ryan and Pittman's hypotheses is that the flood displaced one or more cultures, becoming the progenitor for stories of catastrophic floods such as the Gilgamesh epic and the account of global flood as told in the book of Genesis in the Bible (1998:165-201). Because writing appears to have first developed at around 3200 BCE (Postgate, 1994:52,66), it seems counterintuitive that an oral tradition could have sustained the integrity of the story for more than a few generations, much less for an excess of 2000 years. Stories become conflated with other stories and historical data is lost, biases of the storytellers emerge, and names and places change (Vansina, 1985:121). Indeed, even by following the names of the pious man whom the gods favor in the many flood motifs (Pritchard, 1955:42-44, 90-93, 104-106; Genesis 8:6-12), this can be demonstrated as he is called Ziusudra, Atrahasis, Utnapishtum, and Noah, among others. From Gilgamesh to Genesis, which are written accounts rather than oral ones, "seven days of rain" becomes "forty" and a dove, swallow, raven sequence becomes a raven, dove, dove sequence when the protagonist is releasing birds to find land.

In support of the displaced peoples hypothesis, the journal Science reported (Kerr, 2000) that Robert Ballard and Fredrik Hiebert found an underwater settlement at a depth of 91 m within the Black Sea that included "wattle and daub" building material, stone tools in the form of chisels or hammers, and pottery fragments. The find was only photographed, however, and artifacts for testing, such as wood for carbon dating, were not retrieved, drawing more criticism, albeit constructive, to the hypothesis (Kerr, 2000:2022).

However, the idea that the displaced peoples were farmers and took their farming skills with them to other lands may be the farthest reaching hypothesis. Ryan and Pittman suggest that a "Diaspora" occurred (1998:Ch. 17) with the catastrophic infill of the Black Sea, forcing migration from the Black Sea by the Linearbandkeramic (LBK) north of the Carpathians and the Alps and onward to eastern France (190-191); the VinĨas up the Danube and into the Hungarian Basin (191); and the Proto Indo-Europeans up the Dnieper and north of the Caspian Sea to the Urals (211-213). They suggest that each of these cultures took with them farming techniques obtained along the Black Sea. Mudi et al (Marine Geology, 2002) find that the pollen evidence of the region demonstrates that the area was wooded and that farming was not likely for the Black Sea basin at the time of the flood. They contend that the people of a "Diaspora" would not have had the skills needed to spread farming to Europe, Asia and the Near East.

That a catastrophic or sudden infill of the Black Sea occurred, changing it from a freshwater lake to a saltwater body seems clear. The physical evidence and computer modeling seems weighted in favor of this hypothesis. That this flood is the progenitor for the regional mythologies that include flood motifs seems less likely than the idea that cultures dependent upon a proximity to water for survival might develop many stories that involved flooding irrespective of the Black Sea deluge, which occurred over 2000 years and many generations prior to the earliest writing and would have been sustained by oral tradition alone. That the Black Sea's flood sparked a "Diaspora" or mass evacuation of the region that resulted in the spread of farming seems too simplistic to be a single explanation, and far too difficult to test in order to accept as a viable explanation for a development in human prehistory so significant as the spread of agriculture. It ignores Binford's argument (1968:312-341) that food production strategies arise from demographic selective pressures created by increased populations that begin to encroach on each other's territories. Instead, Ryan and Pittman rely on Childe's "oasis theory" (165-170), which Binford is somewhat critical of, to explain the rise of agriculture and use this theory to justify mass migration from the Black Sea following the deluge.

Dwight Coleman included in personal correspondence (2004) after conceding that the subject sparks much controversy, that a new book is pending that will summarize proceedings from several conferences on the geology and anthropology of the Black Sea. Even critics of Ryan and Pittman agree (Kerr, 2000; Aksu, 2002; Schiermeier, 2004) that the controversy and debate is healthy for the subject, drawing interest and money as well as innovations in good science. That book is about to be released and is titled,
The Black Sea Flood Question: Changes in Coastline, Climate and Human Settlement, by Valentina Yanko-Hombach, Allan S. Gilbert, Nicolae Panin, and Pavel M. Dolukhanov. It can be pre-ordered from the Amazon link provided for a mere $259.00 USD. I think I'll wait and borrow it via my Inter-Library Loan!


Aksu, E. A., Hiscott, R. N., Yasar, D., Isler, F. I., & Marsh, D. (2002, 15/10). 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(1-2), 61-94.

Ballard, R., Coleman, D., Rosenberg, G. (2000). Further evidence of abrupt Holocene drowning of the Black Sea shelf. Marine Geology. 170, 253-261.

Binford, Lewis (1968). "Post-Pleistocene Adaptations." New Perspectives in Archeology, L. Binford and S. Binford, editors, Aldine Publishing, pp. 312-341.

Burkhard, M. (1998, 24 April). Letters. Science, 280(5363), 499.

Coleman, D. ( (2004, 29/11). Email (Ancient Shoreline of the Black Sea).

Cognitive Science Laboratory (2005). Search Results for "sapropel" in WordNet 2.0, found in 2005 at:

Deuser, W. G. (1974). Evolution of anoxic conditions in Black Sea during Holocene. In: The Black Sea-geology, chemistry, and biology, E. T. Degens and R. A. Ross, editors, American Association of Petroleum Geologists Memoir Vol. 20, Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.A., pp. 133-136.

Jones, G. A. (1994). Radiocarbon chronology of Black Sea sediments. Deep-Sea Research, 42(3), 531-557.

Kerr, R. A. (1998, 20 Feb). Black Sea Deluge May Have Helped Spread Farming. Science, 279(5354), 1132.

Kerr, R. A. (2000, 22 Sep). A Victim of the Black Sea Flood Found. Science, 289(5487), 2021-2022.

Mudie, P. J., Rochon, A., & Aksu, A. E. (2002, 15/10). Pollen stratigraphy of Late Quaternary cores from Marmara Sea: Land-sea correlation and paleoclimatic history. Marine Geology, 190(1-2), 233-260.

Popescu, I., et al (2004). The Danube submarine canyon (Black Sea): morphology and sedimentary processes. Marine Geology. 206, 249-265.

Postgate, J. N. (1994). Early Mesopotamia: Society and Economy at the Dawn of History. London: Routledge.

Pritchard, J. B. (1955). Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Ryan, W. B. F., & Pittman, W. C. (1998, 24 April). Letters Response. Science, 280(5363), 499.

Ryan, W., Pittman, W. I., Major, C., Shimkus, K., Moskalenko, V., Jones, G., et al. (1997). An abrubt drowning of the Black Sea shelf. Marine Geology, 138, 119-126.

Ryan, W., & Pittman, W. (1998). Noah's Flood: News Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Schiermeier, Q. (2004, 12 Aug). Noah's Flood. Nature, 430, 718-719.

Siddall, M., Pratt, L. J., Helfrich, K., & Giosan, L. (2004). Testing the physical oceanographic implications of the suggested sudden Black Sea infill 8400 years ago. Paleoceanography, 19(PA), 1024.

Vansina, J. (1985). Oral Tradition as History. University of Wisconsin Press.

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