ANKARA, Turkey, Sept. 14 (AP)--Explorers who found evidence of human life on the bottom of the Black Sea plan to widen their exploration of the mysterious settlement apparently wiped out thousands of years ago by a flood--perhaps that of the biblical Noah.

Undersea explorer Robert Ballard said Wednesday he would ask Turkish authorities to allow his team to recover samples, rather than simply look. They hadn't asked for such a permit before, he said, because they never imagined making such a discovery.

Last week, the group found what may be the first evidence that humans lived in an area now inundated by the Black Sea: well-preserved artifacts, including carved wooden beams, wooden branches, and stone tools. The discovery was made about 12 miles off the northern coast.

"The artifacts clearly have great potential," Ballard said in a telephone interview Wednesday from his ship.

Many ancient Middle Eastern cultures have legends of a great flood, including the Bible story of Noah.

"We have great confidence that the site was above water and humans were at the site," said Ballard, adding that his team had ruled out the possibility that the artifacts were the remains of a sunken ship.

"What we don't know is the age of the humans," he said.

"If we get a piece of wood from that building and date it to 7,000 years ago, it gives great credibility to the theory that people are proposing that the Black Sea is where the biblical flood took place," Ballard said in an interview with National Geographic TV.

Using remote-controlled underwater vessels with cameras, the team located a former river valley beneath the sea. In the valley was the collapsed structure characteristic of stone-age edifices built 7,000 years ago, the group said.

Turkey's Culture Ministry refused to comment on the findings, but authorities appeared likely to grant permission for more research.

"It is not really possible for us to carry out this expedition with the technology available to us," said Harun Ozbas, the representative of the Turkish Directorate of Monuments and Museums.

The group is now mapping the site and looking for other structures in the area.

Ballard, a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, is best known for finding the remains of the Titanic. He also operates the Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Conn. Last year, he found indications of an ancient coastline miles out from the current Black Sea coast.

His current expedition is sponsored by the National Geographic Society, which is planning a book and television programs on his Black Sea research.

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