Locating Noah's Flood: Winnipeg-based Avalon Institute Sets New International Benchmark in Field of Paleo-Environmental Reconstruction
The Avalon Institute of Applied Science, a Winnipeg, Canada, and Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany, based research institute, has recently set a new benchmark in the field of paleoenvironmental reconstruction, a science that uses historical geological and environmental records to trace ancient natural conditions. The ancient condition addressed by the Avalon Institute was one of the major catastrophic events found not only in the Bible, but in even older scripts: the story of Noah's Flood.
Whether referred to as Noah's Flood, or as the Great Flood, the event is so deeply rooted in the collective memory of mankind that it is reported in the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, and forms part of more than just one world religion. It comes as no surprise that scientists are scrambling to pursue any opportunity to shed light on the mystery of this legend. Although the story about Noah's Flood originated likely in Mesopotamia and the Epic of Gilgamesh is recorded at the northwestern end of the Persian Gulf, W. Ryan and W. Pitman, (1997; 1999), two American geologists, have attributed this flood to a location quite far away, on the other side of the large mountain chain: the Black Sea, the large marine basin bordering on Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia. Understandably, their theory that once the rising postglacial sea level reached the sill at the western end of the Black Sea, it catastrophically rushed in to fill the basin and submersed many thousand square miles of land, has spurred a tremendous interest by the public, the scientific community, and even the media (e.g., Earth, August, 1998; New Scientist, February 1999; Scientific American, February 1999; Der Spiegel, December 2000; National Geographic, May 2001; GSA Today, 2002).
Because of the controversy of this hypothesis, a spur of new interest in the paleoceanography of the region has developed. Contradicting this hypothesis, Aksu et al. (2002) suggested that persistent Holocene outflow from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of Holocene did not allow Mediterranean water to enter the Black Sea, and, therefore, a Great Flood in the Black Sea was not possible. Moreover, Aksu et al. (2002) attributed the formation of Sapropel S1 (9.0-6.8 ka) organic-rich sediments layers, to the outflow of Black Sea waters into the Marmara and Aegean Seas, as proof against the catastrophic inflow of Mediterranean water into the Black Sea basin.
Sperling et al. (2003) and Spezafferri et al. (2003) subsequently showed that there was no influence on the Eastern Mediterranean by Black Sea outflow. They evidenced this by using isotopic records of foraminifera from the Levantine Basin, Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. This may be seen as a rebuttal of the Aksu hypothesis, which is a rebuttal of the Ryan and Pitman hypothesis.
Surprisingly, the vast amount of data on Black Sea geology collected by Ex-USSR and former Eastern Block researchers has been all but ignored in trying to trace the Great Flood legend. As a result, some important findings in the Late Quaternary geological history of the basin that can play an important part in the continued discussion of the above scientific hypotheses have been overlooked, and show that there is a true problem in west-east dialogue.
One woman recognized the potential of overcoming the communication barriers between geologists across the world, and has taken some remarkable steps to shed light on the Great Flood. It turns out that the flood did not take place in the Black Sea after all, at least not at the proposed time, and not to the extent described by Ryan and Pitman. Prof. Yanko-Hombach, head of the Avalon Institute and President of the International Society of Environmental Micropaleontology, Microbiology and Meiobenthology, with longtime experience of the Black Sea, Caspian Sea, Sea of Marmara and Eastern Mediterranean, addressed Noah's Flood at the Third International Congress "Applications of Micro- and Meioorganisms to Environmental Sciences" at the University of Vienna, Austria (2002). By working with a large pool of data from several different countries, she squarely refuted a National Geographic special that aired three years ago, showing that during the time period in question there was no large flood in the Black Sea basin (Yanko-Hombach, 2002, 2003; Yanko-Hombach and Tchepalyga, 2003). The overview included the original author's data as well as other geological records obtained largely by Ex-USSR and Former Eastern Block scientists during a large-scale marine geological survey of the Black Sea shelf, supplemented by field observations and archaeological findings collected since 1970. Thousands of kilometers of high-resolution seismic profiles along with thousands of short (~4 m) and long (~30 m) cores obtained in shallow areas were analyzed micropalaeontologically, sedimentologically, geochemically, and were correlated with hundreds of 14C data. New materials on the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus were also taken into consideration. In the context of the flood hypotheses one must consider three scenarios of Black Sea development: the progressive, the catastrophic, and the oscillatory scenario. The oscillatory re-colonization of the Black Sea by Mediterranean immigrants in Holocene, a wide distribution of peats and unconformities in geological section are evidence of fluctuating sea levels which likely had their influence on human development.
With the Vienna conference presentation, renewed interest has encouraged other scientists to once again pursue the subject of Noah's Flood. A number of workshops were carried out or are under way in countries surrounding the Black Sea. The main workshop "Climate Change and Coastline Migration" has just ended (October 1-5, 2003, Bucharest, Romania); it had been sponsored by NATO (http://www.avalon-institute.org). The Proceedings of this workshop will be published in the NATO Scientific Series in the near future.
The workshops were part of the preparatory work for the new international project "NOVEL HIGH-RESOLUTION PALAEORECONSTRUCTION OF PAST CLIMATE DYNAMICS AND SEA LEVEL CHANGES IN THE CIRCUMPONTIC REGION: IMPLICATIONS TO FORECAST" (abbreviation PONTFOR), which was recently submitted to the European 6th Framework Program. Behind this lengthy title are 19 teams from no less than 11 different countries, coordinated by Prof. Yanko-Hombach. The PONTFOR project is aimed to develop and test new multidisciplinary and high-resolution methods to establish paleoenvironmental reconstructions of climate conditions, climate dynamics, sea level changes, regional hydrological variations and coastline migration as parameters influential in the human development in the Circumpontic Region (CPR) since the Last Glacial Maximum. On the basis of the data acquired, it aims to forecast regional coastal response to climate/sea level changes in order enable advice to environmental institutions towards policy development for coastal management. CPR is defined in this project as the area from the Manych-Kerch Gateway (Manych Outlet - Kerch Strait - Sea of Azov) in the north, the Levantine Basin in the south, through the Black Sea, the Marmara Gateway (Bosporus - Sea of Marmara - Dardanells), and the Aegean Sea. In the recent past, these basins were connected and interacted with each other. Likewise, in this region which is commonly viewed as the cradle of human civilization, or at least is at the periphery of it, a possibility of interrelation between early civilizations in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea coast makes it necessary to treat all basins between Caspian and eastern Mediterranean as a single system. Today, these basins are strategically important not only for eight coastal countries (Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Turkey, Greece and Israel), but for at least nine other countries that share the common drainage basin equivalent by size to one-third of the European continent.
This year, the Geological Society of America will hold a special session entitled "Noah's Flood and the Late Quaternary Geological and Archaeological History of the Black Sea and Adjacent Basins". The session will be chaired by a team of two Canadian scientists, Prof. Yanko-Hombach of the Avalon Institute, and Prof. Jim Teller of the University of Manitoba. Because of the international interest in this topic shown by geologists across the world, it has also been addressed at the INQUA Congress Reno, NV, July 23-30, 2003), at workshops in Sozopol, Bulgaria (September 13-17, 2003), and at Colombia University, USA (October 18-20, 2003), and will be a focal point at the 4th International Congress of Environmental Micropaleontology, Microbiology and Meiobenthology, Isparta University, Turkey (September 2004).
Sixteen presentations given at the GSA annual conference will provide a critical scientific assessment of the arguments for and against the hypothesis that Noah's Flood took place in the Black Sea. It will be argued that although there is little room for either Ryan's or Aksu's hypotheses, there is still the possibility of a much earlier flood in the basin caused by massive water overflow from the Caspian Sea over the Manych Strait proposed by the Russian scientist A. Tchepalyga (Yanko-Hombach and Tchepalyga, 2003; Tchepalyga, 2003). Even though the timeline is completely different, this flood could have drastically reduced food resources and available living space to Late Paleolithic people, and possibly caused an early migration and transition from hunting and gathering to farming.
© 2003 The Geological Society of America