Evidence for a Flood- page 2 | Science | Smithsonian
Current Issue
September 2014  magazine cover

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Evidence for a Flood

Sediment layers suggest that 7,500 years ago Mediterranean water roared into the Black Sea


(Continued from page 1)

It was this event that Pitman and Ryan believe could be the flood recorded in the Book of Genesis. The salt water poured through the deepening channel, creating a waterfall 200 times the volume of Niagara Falls (anyone who has ever traveled to the base of the falls on the Maid of the Mist will have a sense of the power involved). In a single day enough water came through the channel to cover Manhattan to a depth at least two times the height of the World Trade Center, and the roar of the cascading water would have been audible at least 100 miles away. Anyone living in the fertile farmlands on the northern rim of the sea would have had the harrowing experience of seeing the boundary of the ocean move inland at the rate of a mile a day.

In addition, Pitman and Ryan point out what archaeologists who study ancient civilizations have known for a long time: that at roughly the time of the flood, a number of people and new customs suddenly appeared in places as far apart as Egypt and the foothills of the Himalayas, Prague and Paris. The people included speakers of Indo-European, the language from which most modern European and Indian languages are derived. Pitman and Ryan suggest that these people might, in fact, represent a diaspora of Black Sea farmers who were driven from their homes by the flood, and that the flood itself might have been the cause of the breakup of Indo-European languages.

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, 2,000 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.

Walter Pitman accepts that there is controversy on this part of his thesis, but can't resist one final irreverent geologist's observation: "When you look at the settlements those people built," he says, "not one of them is less than 150 feet above sea level!"

By James Trefil


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus