December 12, 2012
Titanic Archaeologist, Robert Ballard, May Have Found Evidence Of Noah’s Flood
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
It is one of the oldest stories in the human pantheon, and one of the first any child learns at church. Noah and his great Ark, saving two of every animal from a world destroying flood.
"We went in there to look for the flood," Ballard told ABC News. "Not just a slow moving, advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood that then stayed...The land that went under stayed under."
The discovery of Noah's ark — the huge ship filled with two of each creature meant to repopulate the Earth - has been announced many times. In 1960, a boat like formation was spotted in an aerial photograph on Mount Everest. The shape in the photograph was roughly 500 — 515 feet long, which would put it in the right ball park of the biblical dimensions of the floating zoo. According to the bible, the ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. In today's terms, that's 450 feet long by 75 feet wide by 45 feet high, as a cubit was "the length of a man's arm from fingertips to elbow," or approximately 18 inches.
More recently, in 2010, National Geographic reported that a team of "evangelical Christian explorers" claimed to have found the wooden remains of Noah's ark on Mount Ararat, 20 miles away from Everest.
Until the 1990s, though, not much evidence had been found for the flood itself. Columbia University marine geologists William Ryan and Walter Pitman gathered compelling evidence to show that a flood may have occurred in the Middle East approximately 7,500 years ago. (Interesting side note: this time estimate does not agree with the age of the wooden structure found on Mount Ararat.)
The geologists put forth the theory that a rising Mediterranean Sea pushed a channel through what is now the Bosphorus. This submerged the original shoreline of the Black Sea in a flood moving at approximately 200 times the volume of Niagara Falls that extended out for about 100,000 miles.
Ballard says that some 12,000 years ago, much of the world as we know it today was covered in ice.
"Where I live in Connecticut was ice a mile above my house, all the way back to the North Pole, about 15 million kilometers, that's a big ice cube," he told ABC News reporters. "But then it started to melt. We're talking about the floods of our living history."
"The questions is, was there a mother of all floods," Ballard said.
Ballard and his team investigated the idea of the Mediterranean turning the small freshwater inland lake into the salty Black Sea.
"We went in there to look for the flood," he said. "Not just a slow moving, advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood that then stayed... The land that went under stayed under."
For more than a decade, Ballard has been exploring this theory. He first discovered evidence of a submerged ancient shoreline in 1999. In 2000, Ballard, Pitman and Ryan reported finding evidence of a structure "with carved wooden beams, wooden branches and stone tools collapsed among the mud matrix of the structure," some 300 feet below sea level. Still not convinced at this point that it was the flood of biblical record, Ballard has continued his search. His team found a vessel and one of its crewmembers in the Black Sea this past year.
"That is a perfectly preserved ancient shipwreck in all its wood, looks like a lumber yard," he said. "But if you look closely, you will see the femur bone and actually a molar." The wreck was in surprisingly good condition because the Black Sea has almost no oxygen, a fact which slows down the decaying process. The wreck, however, does not date back to the story of Noah.
"The oldest shipwreck that we have discovered so far of that area is around 500 BC, classical period," Ballard said. "But the question is you just keep searching. It's a matter of statistics."
Ballard says the "deep sea is the largest museum on Earth," making him confident he will find older evidence.
They also found evidence of an ancient shoreline. Ballard, using carbon dating obtained from shells along that shoreline, estimates this catastrophic event happened around 5,000 B.C.
"It probably was a bad day," Ballard said. "At some magic moment, it broke through and flooded this place violently, and a lot of real estate, 150,000 square kilometers of land, went under."
Ballard isn't suggesting that Noah's ark is real, however. His team suggests that the story of this traumatic event, seared into the collective memory of the survivors, was passed down from generation to generation and eventually inspired the biblical account of Noah.
"If you witness a terrible natural disaster, yes, you want a scientific explanation why this has happened," said Karen Armstrong, author of "A History of God." "But you also need to something that will help you to assuage your grief and anguish and rage. And it is here that myth helps us through that."
According to Genesis, Noah was a deeply faithful father of three approaching his 600th birthday when God called him to build the ark.
"In the early chapters of Genesis, people live 800 years, 700 years, 900 years," Rabbi Burt Visotzky, a professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York told ABC News. "Those are mythic numbers, those are way too big. We don't quite know what to do with that. So sometimes those large numbers, I think, also serve to reinforce the mystery of the text."
While the story of the flood is integral to the Old Testament book of Genesis, it is not the only tale of a world-altering flood. The Babylonian epic Gilgamesh, the ancient Greeks and Romans, and even Native Americans all have their own variation of the flood story.
Many biblical scholars believe the story of Noah was mythical, inspired by the legendary floods of nearby Mesopotamia. The story of Gilgamesh and his flood were being passed around from one generation to the next for several centuries before Noah appeared in the early bible.
"The earlier Mesopotamian stories are very similar where the gods are sending a flood to wipe out humans," said biblical archaeologist Eric Cline told ABC News. "There's one man they choose to survive. He builds a boat and brings on animals and lands on a mountain and lives happily ever after? I would argue that it's the same story."
While the scientific community does not generally take the reports of Noah's ark seriously, Ballard's impressive track record is helping his theory and work to be noticed. Besides the discovery of the Titanic, Ballard is credited with finding the wreck of the battleship, Bismarck, and a U.S. fleet lost off Guadalcanal in the Pacific. Ballard plans to return to Turkey next year to continue his search.
"It's foolish to think you will ever find a ship," Ballard said, referring to the Ark. "But can you find people who were living? Can you find their villages that are underwater now? And the answer is yes."
ABC News will air a two-part special by Christiane Amanpour called "Back to the Beginning," which explores the history of the Bible from Genesis to Jesus. Part one airs on Friday, Dec. 21 and part two on Friday, Dec. 28, both starting at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.