- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Artifacts found at the bottom of the Black Sea provide new evidence that humans faced a great flood, perhaps that of the biblical account of Noah and the great Ark, thousands of years ago.

Remnants of human habitation were found in more than 300 feet of water about 12 miles off the coast of Turkey, undersea explorer Robert Ballard said yesterday.

"There's no doubt about it, it's an exciting discovery," Mr. Ballard said in a telephone interview from his research ship. "We realize the broad significance the discovery has, and we're going to do our best to learn more."

Fredrik Hiebert of the University of Pennsylvania, chief archaeologist for the Black Sea project, said from the ship, "This find represents the first concrete evidence for the occupation of the Black Sea coast prior to its flooding."

Many ancient Middle Eastern cultures have accounts of a great flood, including the Bible's account of Noah.

Columbia University researchers William Ryan and Walter Pittman speculated in their 1997 book "Noah's Flood" that when the European glaciers melted about 7,000 years ago, the Mediterranean Sea overflowed into what was then a smaller freshwater lake to create the Black Sea.

Last year, Mr. Ballard found indications of an ancient coastline miles out from the current Black Sea coast. His new discovery provides evidence that people once lived in that now inundated region.

Mr. Ballard, a National Geographic Society explorer in residence, said he had studied shells found along the ancient coastline and found two types. One group is an extinct type of freshwater shell, while the second is from saltwater shellfish. The saltwater shells date back 6,500 years, while the freshwater shells all date to 7,000 years ago and older.

"So," he said yesterday, "we know that there was a sudden and dramatic change from a freshwater lake to a saltwater sea 7,000 years ago. We know that as a result of that flood a vast amount of land went underwater.

"And we now know that that land was inhabited. What we don't know is who these people are, we don't know how broad their settlements were … but we're expanding our studies to try to determine that."

Mr. Ballard said his team, using remote-controlled underwater vessels with cameras, located a former river valley beneath the sea and in that valley was a collapsed structure, including some preserved wooden beams that had been worked by hand.

The structure was "clearly built by humans," and was characteristic of stone-age structures built 7,000 years ago in the interior of Turkey, he said. It contained a stone chisel and two other stone tools with holes drilled through them, he said, adding that nothing has been removed from the site.

"When you first find a site you don't just run in there and start picking up things," he said.

The group is mapping the site and looking for other structures in the area.

"This is a work in progress," Mr. Ballard said. "It is critical to know the exact era of the people who lived there, and to that end we hope to recover artifacts and wood for carbon dating so we can figure out what sort of people lived there and the nature of their tools."

The discovery occurred within Turkey's coastal waters and that country's Directorate of Monuments and Museums has a representative on the research vessel.

Mr. Ballard, best known for finding the remains of the ships Titanic, Bismarck and Yorktown, among other discoveries, operates the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn. His expedition is sponsored by the National Geographic Society, which is planning a book and television programs on Mr. Ballard's Black Sea research.

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