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The book of Genesis contains some of the best known stories from the Christian faith. Even non-Christians in the West are likely familiar with how the snake tricked Adam and Eve and the famous line “let there be light” from the creation story. Almost every child has also owned a book, picture, ornament or tchotchke of some sort that depicts the animals boarding the ark two by two.

Though the sanitized version of Noah’s Ark is always popular with children — most parents avoid discussing how everyone but Noah’s family drowned — skeptics and even faithful Christians have long held the belief that the story of Noah’s Ark was just that, a story. Recent scientific discoveries, however, suggest that the tale of the Great Flood is rooted in historical fact and cultural tragedy. 

The evidence supporting the flood narrative is hard to ignore, but it went undiscovered for quite some time. The reason for that is simple. Scholars and archeologists expected to find evidence of the flood, if there was any, in the Middle East likely near the Tigris or Euphrates. The most compelling evidence for a catastrophe of biblical proportions, however, was found much farther west in the Balkans. More precisely, it was found at the bottom of the Black Sea.

The Black Sea is well known to be exactly that, a landlocked body of salt water found in Eastern Europe. It is not the place most people would begin their search for the flood that forms the foundation of stories like the tale of Noah’s Ark in the book of Genesis. Scientists, however, have reason to believe that the Black Sea was originally a massive freshwater lake and that its transformation into a salty sea was traumatic enough to engrave itself in the collective memory of mankind.

At the end of the Ice Age, the water level of the Mediterranean Sea rose rapidly. Eventually, the extra water needed somewhere to go. That somewhere was the Black Sea. Around 7500 B.C., the waters of the Mediterranean flowed northward and shattered the thin, then-dry barrier of the Bosporus. Salt water roared into the Black Sea with a force more than 200 times that of Niagara Falls. Sediment was pushed into the Black Sea and, as the pressure from the Mediterranean only increased, the flood began to gouge the actual bedrock. Today, there is an underwater channel nearly 300 feet deep carved in the bottom of the Black Sea, and the surrounding dry land is still dangerously prone to rockslides from where the Mediterranean flood destabilized the entire area.

Until the Mediterranean flooded the Black Sea, the area would have been fertile, and thus populated, farmland. The residents of the area had the horrifying experience of watching a wall of water roar toward them fast enough to bury an area the size of Manhattan under more than 2,600 feet of water. Leaving the immediate area would not have been enough either. At that time, the ocean moved inland at a rate of more than a mile per day, and the raging waters could be heard more than 100 miles away. Understandably, anyone in the area fled for their lives.

At this point, archaeologists take over from geologists in order to suggest exactly what happened to the people that managed to stay in front of the flood. At this same point in history, unfamiliar people and new customs sprang up abruptly in ancient cultures spanning an area from Egypt to Paris. It is believed that these customs were brought by foreigners migrating to new areas. Those foreigners could have been refugees fleeing the flood of the Black Sea. In fact, some people have suggested that this massive flood was the reason that the Indo-European language, the original language from which almost all European and Indian languages evolved, began to break up into new and unique languages.

The spread of a displaced people would also explain why flood narratives are so common. There are stories of floods in almost every culture on Earth, but those that originate in the Middle East and Mediterranean contain more similarities than one would expect to find in cultures that had limited contact with one another. These common themes, however, would make perfect sense if they were all based on the same catastrophic event.

Some people would argue that the Black Sea deluge does not fit the parameters of the flood described in Genesis. The rise of the Black Sea no doubt covered a massive area of land for a single flood, but it fell far short of covering the entire world. The emphasis on the flood covering the globe, however, is not inherently consistent with the original text. Later translations of the Bible certainly suggest that the flood in Genesis covered every inch of the Earth. This is not what the Hebrew says. The word used in the Bible to describe the area covered by the flood is “’eretz.” This is commonly translated as “world,” but it would be more accurate to characterize it as meaning “earth,” “country,” “way” and “ground.” As such, the flood may well have covered the “earth” but it would be the literal earth, as in the soil, where Noah lived. In fact, the word “’eretz” is still used today to refer to the modern State of Israel, and anyone with access to a map knows that when it comes to physical landmass, Israel is tiny.

There is no way to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Black Sea deluge is the flood referenced in one of Genesis’ most famous stories, but there is never any way to prove any ancient event for certain. All anyone can do is layout the best evidence they can find in order to try and make sense of the events of centuries past that mankind’s collective cultural memory preserved for the ages.