Archaeologists have found evidence that appears to support the theory that a catastrophic flood struck the Black Sea region more than 7,000 years ago, turning the sea saline, submerging surrounding plains and possibly inspiring the flood legends of Mesopotamia and the Bible.
In their first scientific report, the expedition leaders said that a sonar survey in the sea off Sinop, a city on the northern coast of Turkey, conducted in the summer of 2000, revealed the first distinct traces of the preflood shoreline, now about 500 feet underwater.
At one site, the sonar detected more than 30 stone blocks on a gently sloping but otherwise featureless bottom. Further investigation with remote controlled cameras revealed pieces of wood and other objects, possibly ceramics.
The site "appeared uniquely rectangular" in the sonar image, and the stone blocks did not appear to be part of a natural geological formation, expedition scientists reported in today's issue of The American Journal of Archaeology. Analysis of core samples yielded chemical evidence that archaeologists said were consistent with the interpretation that the site was once occupied by people.
"The expedition clearly has found a subaquatic landscape with materials that belong to the period before the inundation," said Dr. Bruce Hitchner, an archaeologist at the University of Dayton, Ohio, and editor of the journal, a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. "They have confirmed an important element of the flood theory, quite convincingly I think."
The expedition was led by Dr. Robert D. Ballard, an oceanographer and president of the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn., and Dr. Fredrik T. Hiebert, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania. The research was supported in part by the National Geographic Society.
Among the expedition's most striking discoveries were four Roman and Byzantine shipwrecks, several of them surprisingly well preserved because of the oxygen-deficient waters at the bottom of the sea.