No ‘Biblical Deluge’ but Gradual Ice Age Melting Made Black Sea ‘a Sea’, Archaeologists Find after Underwater Expedition in Bulgaria’s Waters

The Western Black Sea, including Bulgaria's waters. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

The Western Black Sea, including Bulgaria’s waters. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

Hypotheses that the Black Sea became saline and connected with the global ocean as a result of a catastrophic flood ca. 6,000-5,000 BC, which have even been linked by speculations to the Biblical Deluge and the story of Noah’s Ark, seem to be unjustified, according to the initial findings of a large-scale underwater archaeology project taking place in Bulgaria’s waters, the Black Sea M.A.P.

Instead, preliminary conclusions based on the latest data collected in the largest underwater archaeology expedition in the Black Sea to date indicate that the Black Sea, formerly a fresh water lake, became saline and connected with the World Ocean at the end of the last Ice Age, from about 18,000 to about 12,000 years ago, Bulgarian archaeologists have revealed.

Another major result for the second Black Sea M.A.P. underwater archaeology expedition which already made headlines has been the discovery of the world’s first ever well preserved sunken “round ship”, also known as a “cog”, a medieval Mediterranean (and North European) ship which was a precursor to the Age of Discovery vessels such as the ones on which Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic.

The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project (Black Sea M.A.P.), which started in September 2015, is being carried out by the Center for Maritime Archaeology of the University of Southampton, the Sozopol-based Center for Underwater Archaeology at the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, and the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

The three year project, which is funded by the Expedition and Education Foundation (EEF), is also assisted by the University of Connecticut, USA; the Maritime Archaeological Research Institute, Södertörn (MARIS), Södertörn University, Sweden; and the Hellenic Center for Marine Research, Greece.

The results from the second voyage of the project, which took place on September 1-26, 2016, in the zone between Bulgaria’s Rezovo in the south and Cape Galata near Varna, were presented publicly at the end of September 2016 in Bulgaria’s Black Sea of Burgas by Prof. Jon Adams from the University of Southampton and Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski, Assoc. Prof. Krum Bachvarov, and Assist. Prof. Kalin Dimitrov from Bulgaria’s National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

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A satellite image of the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. Photo: Originalwana, Wikipedia

A satellite image of the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. Photo: Originalwana, Wikipedia

The preliminary conclusions of the Black Sea M.A.P. scholars after the underwater expedition are that when the warming at the end of the last Ice Age and the melting of the glaciers started about 18,000 years ago, the Black Sea coast of what is today Bulgaria was located about 60 km to the east, Vagalinski has revealed, as cited by Nova TV.

“And it can be seen that dunes, microorganism, and others were submerged because this means that the sea level rose by about 100 meters," he has stated.

“In itself, this result, of course, these are still preliminary data, seems to be refuting the idea that Black Sea was where the Biblical Deluge and the story about Noah took place," adds the Director of the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

This suggests that the Black Sea was a fresh water lake up until the end of the last Ice Age when it went saline and became connected with the World Ocean through the Bosphorus Straits as a result of a gradual rise in the sea level as the globe’s extensive ice sheets covering large parts of the globe were melting.

Not only do these findings contradict existing hypotheses about a brief but catastrophic flooding of the Black Sea likened to the Biblical Deluge described in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament but they also indicate the gradual rise in the level of the Black Sea occurred much earlier (16,000 – 10,000 BC).

The main Black Sea deluge hypothesis was put forth in 1996-1997 by US scholars William Ryan and Water Pitman. It proposes that a devastating flooding took place ca. 5,600 BC when rising waters from the Mediterranean breached though what is today known as the Turkish Straits (the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles).

Archaeologist Kalin Dimitrov from the Center for Underwater Archaeology in Bulgaria’s Sozopol has noted that, in addition to exploring the wrecks of sunken ships, which are especially well preserved in the Black Sea thanks to the lack of oxygen below 150-200 meters, the other main goal of the Black Sea M.A.P. project has been precisely to collect date in order to test the hypothesis about the alleged devastating prehistoric flooding.

“This is another part of our program. What we’ve done is to collect samples in order to test the Deluge theory, the mechanism and the way this occurred. We have collected the data and we are yet to process it. We can say that the probes we made last year were very efficient. They contain samples that are very good for dating," Dimitrov has told the Trud daily.

The Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project is set to continue carrying out geophysical surveys to detect former land surfaces buried below the current sea bed and taking core samples to characterize and date them, the organizers of the project state.

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The Black M.A.P. team’s research ship is the Stril Explorer, a state of the art offshore survey vessel equipped with the most advanced underwater survey systems in use anywhere in the world. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

The Black M.A.P. team’s research ship is the Stril Explorer, a state of the art offshore survey vessel equipped with the most advanced underwater survey systems in use anywhere in the world. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

The second underwater archaeology expedition of the Black Sea M.A.P. project inspected over 40 shipwrecks from different time periods, while also collecting samples to figure out if there is any truth in the hypotheses about a prehistoric "Biblical Deluge" in the Black Sea. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

The second underwater archaeology expedition of the Black Sea M.A.P. project inspected over 40 shipwrecks from different time periods, while also collecting samples to figure out if there is any truth in the hypotheses about a prehistoric “Biblical Deluge” in the Black Sea. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

“An expedition mapping drowned ancient landscapes in the Black Sea is making dramatic discoveries. An international team… is surveying the Bulgarian waters of the Black Sea where thousands of years ago large areas of land were inundated as the water level rose after the last Ice Age,” they say in a release.

“During these surveys the team have also inspected more than 40 shipwrecks, many of which provide the first views of ship types known from historical sources but never before seen. Their astonishing preservation is due to the anoxic conditions of the Black Sea below 150 meters. Together the wrecks, which include those from the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, provide new data on the maritime interconnectivity of Black Sea coastal communities and manifest ways of life and seafaring that stretch back into prehistory,” the organizers inform furhter.

It is noted that the Black M.A.P. team’s research ship is the Stril Explorer, a state of the art offshore survey vessel equipped with the most advanced underwater survey systems in use anywhere in the world. They are carried on two Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs): the Supporter ROV is optimised for high resolution 3D photogrammetry and video.

The ROV Surveyor Interceptor is a revolutionary vehicle developed by the survey companies MMT and Reach Subsea. It flies at three times the speed of conventional ROVs and carries an entire suite of geophysical instrumentation as well as lights, high definition cameras and a laser scanner. In the course of the project it has set new records for both depth (1800m), sustained speed (over 6 knots), and has covered a distance of 1,000 km.

The Black Sea M.A.P. project operates under permits from the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Foreign Affairs in strict adherence to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001).

The organizers note that in addition to the ground-breaking underwater archaeology research, other key elements of the project are education and documentary.

“In tune with the science and technology of the project, eight students of school age were selected to join the science team on board in order to experience and even participate in many of the procedures… Documentation of the project as it is happening both ashore and aboard ship has been placed in the capable hands of Black Sea Films. Just as the science is cutting-edge, so is its filming, for their team includes those who made the award-winning BBC series Blue Planet and Planet Earth. Maritime archaeology in the deep sea has often been a contested domain but this project, the largest of its type ever undertaken, demonstrates how effective partnerships between academia and industry can be, especially when funded by enlightened bodies such as EEF,” the Black Sea M.A.P. release concludes.

Prof. Jon Adams during the public presentation of the expedition’s results in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

Prof. Jon Adams during the public presentation of the expedition’s results in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

Assoc. Prof. Krum Bachvarov (left), Assist. Prof. Kalin Dimitrov (middle), and Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski (second on the right) during the public presentation of the expedition’s results in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

Assoc. Prof. Krum Bachvarov (left), Assist. Prof. Kalin Dimitrov (middle), and Assoc. Prof. Lyudmil Vagalinski (second on the right) during the public presentation of the expedition’s results in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Burgas. Photo: Black Sea M.A.P.

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