15 January 2022

The Black Sea deluge

Another addition to my list of recommended books, this one explaining in detail the hypothesis that an immense and abrupt irruption of water into the Black Sea from the Aegean/Mediterranean seas was responsible for major cultural disruptions and may have been the basis for the "great flood" hypothesis seen in so many cultures.

In prehistoric times what is now the Black Sea was an immense freshwater lake, fed by glacial meltwaters.  When the outflow drainage at the Bosphorus closed and when the climate changed (disappearance of glaciers, aridity of the overall watershed), the lake evaporated to a smaller size.

The schematic at right shows the approximate relative sizes and shapes of the ancient freshwater lake and the current Black Sea.  That freshwater lake was a magnet for early human civilization because of the presence of water, game, and arable land.

When the Bosphorus "opened up," the inflow of seawater was on a scale not seen anywhere in the modern world.  The Mediterranean was open to the Atlantic, and the sea level was about 500 feet higher than the lake.  When water found a crack in the Bosphorus the flow would have started as a trickle, then as the passage eroded the flow would increase exponentially.  
"Ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls, enough to cover Manhattan Island each day to a depth of over half a mile."  
The lake then began to rise 6" per day, and depending on the gradient, the shore would expand by as much as a mile a day - every day, without pause.  The people living on the shores of the lake would be forced to flee.
"It is hard to imagine the terror of those farmers, forced from their fields by an event they could not understand, a force of such incredible violence that it was as if the collected fury of all the gods was being hurled at them.  They fled with family, the old and the young, carrying what they could, along with fragments of the other languages, new  ideas, and new technologies gathered from around the lake."

The diaspora is detailed in several chapters of the book.
"All these people appeared in Europe shortly after the flood.  All have been described [by archaeologists] as outsiders: people who migrated from some distance... all seem to have been more culturally advanced than those [original European residents] whom they displaced.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, at that time in the middle of the sixth millennium B.C., Europe began a rapid ascent into what has been called a "Golden Age"...

The diaspora also happened in the other direction, creating enormous population changes in Anatolia and the Middle East.
"In the [Mesopotamian] epic of Gilgamesh the seven sages are credited with building the walls of Uruk and bringing the arts of civilization to the Sumerians - irrigation, farming, and the use of copper, gold, and silver.  The question of where the Sumerians came from is still unanswered."

"The oldest known written versions of the flood were committed to clay tablets over two millennia after [this flood] event in Sumerian, the language of the first known writing, a language with no known roots and no known descendants..."
The final point to make is that the story of the flood would have been passed by oral history down through dozens of generations.  Archaeologists have noted that the peoples who fled to Europe tended to settle some distance away from freshwater lakes and streams.  But those who fled to the fertile crescent would have been reminded of the great flood because their new territory was also subjected to annual flooding from the Tigris and Euphrates, which may explain why the legend was maintained there until the invention of cuneiform writing.

If you don't have time for the book, you can browse the high points at the Wikipedia page for the Black Sea deluge hypothesis.

Other interesting bits from the book:
"[King Darius I the Great] governed skillfully and managed a vast empire long before that of Alexander the Great, a regime that encompassed all the prior realms of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, Ionians, Persians, and Medes, extending to the east as far as the Indus Valley, to the west into Europe, and to the south into Africa, flourishing in economy and culture."

"Apparently what had so deeply moved Smith was the realization that the [cuneiform] fragments he had assembled contained an independent version of the biblical deluge.  The heathen words told almost exactly the same story as the Hebrew narrative, right down to the selection of a survivor of the deluge through the intervention of a god, the forewarning that gave time to build a wooden ark, the refuge in it of every kind of animal, bird, and reptile, the grounding of the boat on the side of a mountain, the details of dispatching a swallow, raven, and dove to find land, the offering of a sacrifice, and the pledge that the gods would never again return the world to its primeval watery chaos."  "... after the feast one of the goddesses flung her jeweled necklace into the sky to be the sign of a covenant never again to drown the world."  "There was no doubt that the deluge described so vividly in the Gilgamesh legend had been inscribed on stone tablets long before the writing of the first books of the Old Testament."

The fact that the Mediterranean basin had once been a desert is confirmed by the discovery that the Nile River has an immensely deep central gorge (now filled with sediment) as a result of erosion when the Nile used to empty into a much lower basin.  The separation of the Mediterranean from the Atlantic occurred during the Messinian time interval between 7.2 and 5.4 million years ago.  "The transition from sea to land and back to sea had taken less than half a million years."  "Although no humans lived five million years ago, had any been present, they would have witnessed the Mediterranean desert disappearing permanently beneath a mile of salt water in a matter of a single human lifetime."

"... the Sumerians and Akkadians, and even the Greeks, did not believe in a reward after death.  Death might be postponed through a petition to a god, but  no one could escape it.  The body returned to clay, and a duplicate "phantom" entered a new abode through an aperture in the grave, leading to an immense, dark, silent, and sad netherworld where one had a torpid and gloomy existence forever."


  1. There is a North American version of this event and story represented in the great postglacial Missoula floods. The story of the floods is interesting as is the story of the person who properly interpreted the evidence (J. Harlen Bretz) and who had to work decades for the theory to be accepted (in the 1920-1960 range). And there are stories handed down among the aboriginal peoples of the WA/ID/OR/BC area to suggest that this flooding happened within cultural memory. Finally, one can search for Lake Agassiz and the Younger Dryas for another example of massive postglacial flooding in N. America.

    For those who like the visual, look up Nick Zentner. He has a series of videos on geology that includes the glacial flooding. "Huge Floods" is a youtube channel. Nick teaches geology at Central Washington University.


    1. Another useful source of info on the channeled scablands topography is the 2006 NOVA program "Mystery of the Megaflood," now on DVD in most libraries.

    2. During the COVID times, Nick Zentner went up in a helicopter to inspect the Columbia Valley. Much of what he sees are artifacts of the great floods (yes - water flowing all the way from Missoula, outside the normal flow of the Columbia River). The videos can be a little slow because of the delay of physically moving about, but they are fascinating.


    3. Wonderful videos with hi-rez images and informed commentary. I thought parts 3 and 4 were the best. Thank you.

  2. Two things:

    1) Just because someone wrote it before Moses, does not mean it was derived from earlier accounts. That is, if many had some legend of a great flood, it doesn't mean the accounts are derivative of other accounts.

    2) I have heard that the Pacific islands have similar flood accounts. It is conjectured that sea levels arose and so these peoples vacated for higher ground. So the flood legend may be near universal. Maybe?

  3. Thank you, scouter573. I came to the comments section to observe that the narrative didn't account for a north american experience, as I remembered reading the indigenous people also had a flood story and there was your comment.

  4. The whole theory is super fascinating.

    The web comic xkcd created an incredible project called Time that sets a story in an imaginary future where the Mediterranean has receded, and is filling back up again. A poignant and impressive work for web comics. The artist and author wrote a brief recap blog post about it here:


  5. Well, then... another book to be added to my ever-expanding to-read list

  6. I was immediately reminded of the fact that there is evidence that Australian Aborigines did, in fact, have an oral tradition of a flood that actually happened. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/16/indigenous-australian-storytelling-records-sea-level-rises-over-millenia


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