Monday, September 27, 2010

Noah’s Flood *

Reviewed by Andrew Hanson

If you believe that it the story of the flood found in Genesis 6 and 7 is literally and scientifically true, then read no further. If you wish to refresh your memory regarding the account in Genesis 6 & 7, here it is. But be warned, there’s more.

THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNT beginning with the 13th verse of Genesis and ending with the final verse of Chapter 7 (NIV)

Genesis 6
So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. Make a roof for it and finish the ark to within 18 inches of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.

Genesis 7
The LORD then said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.

And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the LORD shut him in.

For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

Genesis 8
But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him. By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

Then God said to Noah, "Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it."

So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on the earth—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

If, you wish to consider a less catastrophic account of what happened, Noah’s Flood by Ryan and Pitman “is a well-written tale that deserves an audience.” ** If you are numbered in that audience, continue.

William Ryan and Walter Pitman are convinced that around 5600 B.C., the rising Mediterranean broke through the Bosporus Strait into what is now the Black Sea, then a large freshwater lake. They authors estimate that “ten cubic miles of water poured through each day, two hundred times what flows over Niagara Falls.” They believe that geological evidence supports their contention that "the Bosporus flume roared and surged at full spate for at least three hundred days", and inundated 60,000 square miles of land. The surviving people and animals that lived on the fertile plains that were the margins of the lake were scattered. The book speculates as to who those people were and where they went. For Ryan and Pitman, this cataclysmic event is in all probability the biblical flood and the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh.

While they support their findings with 256 biblical, geologic, anthropological, historical, and linguistic references, their conclusions are regarded by many of their colleagues as tentative at best.

* Noah’s Flood: New Scientific Discoveries About the Event That Changed History, Simon & Shuster, 1998, by William B. F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman, senior scientists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University and recipients of the Shepard Medal of excellence in marine geology.

** Joyce L. Ogburn, Old Dominion Univ., Norfolk, VA, 1998.

REVIEWERS NOTES: I was asked by an editor to (1) reflect on what the theological importance or implications would be if something were found that everyone agreed to be Noah's ark and (2) assess the strength of the evidence on behalf of the book's claims.

In contrast to my short straightforward response to the first part of this request, I have referenced Wikipedia in order to supply the reader with research findings that both support and question the book’s thesis. I’ve also supplied more recent support of Ryan and Pitman’s flood theory.

There is no evidence that a boat that in any way resembles Noah’s ark exists anywhere. Reports that an ark has been discovered under the ice on Mt. Ararat are hoaxes.

For an up-to-date critical evaluation of the book, I suggest Wikipedia for references and graphics.

In support of the book’s general thesis, I suggest the following dispatches at this website. I have included edited versions of Dispatch 10 and 12. They are interviews of Chief Archaeologist Dr. Fredrik Hiebert

September 9, 2000

The following are abridged transcripts of interviews with Dr. Fredrik Hiebert, Chief Archaeologist of the Black Sea 2000 Expedition. Hiebert is a professor of anthropology and archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, adjunct researcher at the Institute for Exploration, and an adjunct professor at the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. The interviews were conducted by online correspondent Sean Markey in the expedition control room onboard the Northern Horizon following the expedition team’s visual inspection of the settlement site with the remotely operated vehicle Little Hercules.

“From my perspective, what we’ve done today is of world importance. We’ve discovered, for the first time, an ancient settlement which is located underwater in the Black Sea which relates to the settlements that we’ve been finding on land on the Black Sea coastline.

During [the] time...the Black Sea was a freshwater lake, it had a rich coastline. It had been proposed that people had been living around this coastline. But we had no proof of this. It was just an idea.

This morning we went back to one of the most promising of these sites. A site that was located right along a submerged river valley. A place that according to our on-land archaeological surveys would have been a key place for human settlement. As we approached the site, we were coming along the flat, slightly sloping plane of the bottom of Black Sea today. It was almost featureless. And then we approached our target and it was quite distinct. There really was very little change around this site. But as we approached it, we found a rectangular site some four meters, or 10-12 feet, across and maybe double that in length. It was astonishing, because rather than being a typical underwater feature that we’d seen before—a shipwreck or an anchor or any other of the debris that you might see on the bottom of the Black Sea—here were hewn beams in a rectangular form along with branches that seemed to be stuck in layers of mud. What we were looking at was a melted building made out of wattle and daub. Now, this is the typical type of construction for the ancient inhabitants along the Black Sea coast.

And here we’re seeing it under 300 feet [91 meters] of water. It was one of the most astonishing things I’ve ever seen.

We had a chance to drive over that and inspect it very carefully with our remotely operated vehicle. As we went very carefully—practically inch by inch—over this site we began to see stone tools. These stone tools are pecked stone...not small blades...but seemed to be pecked or ground stone. I don’t know if they’re hammers or chisels. We are not touching anything. We’re just photographing them. We’re mapping them so that we have a good understanding of what this site is. So I’m not actually sure what these stone tools are. But it’s quite clear that they were worked by human hands. Some of them appear to be quite strongly polished.

We also found fragments of ceramics. These ceramics were literally exposed on the floor of this structure. It was amazing to see this because we imagine that the sediments would have covered them. But here on the ancient coastline sedimentation is so low that the ceramics were exposed. We were able to see that this structure more or less is in the shape of what we would think is an ancient house. It had ceramics. It had these ground stone implements. It had the clear remains of walls made out of mud with sticks and beams as their major construction.

This is a remarkable find. We need to study it more to understand its date. And also to look at the surrounding land to understand this building in the context of its settlement structure all along the coast.

So this is the first of what I hope to be is a really exciting series of discoveries this season, looking for ancient settlements along the submerged coastline.

October 6, 2000

Since the report of the discovery of the habitation site (site 82) and its initial reporting the following has happened: We were granted permission from the Turkish authorities to move to a further stage of investigation—sampling and actual testing of some of our observations. Thus, when we went in and investigated the site further, we found that suggested mud slabs were actually stone, and that the suggested stone artifacts were actually wood, etc. We now have samples from the site which we collected. (They are in my refrigerator at the moment.) I am sending them for scientific analysis.

Scientific Method in Action

We are in the process of learning about this flooded coastline. Every exposed rock and stone we see was clearly part of the landscape when this was dry land. It is very exciting to be the first to see this landscape since it flooded. With the discovery of this site, we now are in a position to fit it into our larger picture of the ancient cultures of the Black Sea area.

Archaeologists use the scientific method. Our assignment of this site as an ancient habitation site is a hypothesis. To test this hypothesis, we first need to have a model (something which is only partially known or unknown) in our heads of what the objects we could see were, and how they came to lie together on the floor of the Black Sea.

While the video images taken from the ROVs look just like ancient structures that we had seen on land, we had to consider other scenarios that could have produced a similar arrangement. Other interpretations that we must consider are that we were observing a natural geological outcrop that had accumulated wood over the years, a broken-up shipwreck, or even the debris from a modern depth charge.

Our job as scientists is now to devise tests that would allow us to exclude these interpretations and/or to offer support to our hypothesis the site was a human-built and used archaeological site. Using still cameras, we compiled a photographic map of all the features that we could see. Armed with this tantalizing picture, we approached the Turkish Ministry of Culture for permission to sample the site for scientific analysis. We were granted permission and the Northern Horizon returned to the site location. The opportunity to visit this submerged site was the thrill of a lifetime.

Twist of the Depths!

We jury-rigged a special recovery device for Little Hercules—an experimental addition that was put together on the boat.

It worked! We watched on the video while a flexible probe touched and lifted some of the objects. The texture, density, and shape of the objects on the screen became clear as Little Herc circled only a few feet above the Black Sea floor. For now, this is the closest that we will ever get to actually “seeing” the site with our own eyes. Later, a sampling bag allowed us to raise a few carefully chosen artifacts and other objects to the surface for examination and testing. In addition to these objects, we collected samples of the mucky deposit on the surface of the site.

What did this device allow us to learn? First of all, we found that the sedimentary blocks that appeared to be clay are actually stone, not mud. Second we retrieved several of the artifacts, and they turned out to be wood, not stone.

Many Neolithic and Bronze Age buildings have such stone foundations, just as many have wood and mud type architecture. We have to understand that people in the past used many types of building techniques, depending on the situation (I like to use the Three Little Pigs concept) during the same period. A culture can build buildings out of sticks, brick and stone. It is quite likely that the stones could have made a solid foundation for a building that was partially constructed under the ground, like a shallow pithouse. This new hypothesis is based upon learning from our testing and revising our model. Following this new scenario, the original surface might have been eroded by water to leave the surface that we see today.

Our closer look at the wooden artifacts confirms our first impression that they are the result of shaping by humans. They have smooth, symmetrical shapes and unmistakable traces of drilling to produce the holes visible on the videos. We don’t know a lot about ancient wooden tools since wood is rarely preserved in any form, but we can compare these objects with the tools for woodworking that have been found at sites on land, and with wooden objects produced by craftsmen in today’s traditional societies.

Scientific Analysis Begins

With samples in hand, we rapidly developed a plan for the analysis of materials that might represent an ancient land environment but which have also been in a cold, wet, Black Sea environment for an unknown number of years. Once we had consulted with an expert on conserving waterlogged wood samples, we proceeded with our highest priority, dating the wood samples using the supersensitive accelerator mass spectrometer (AMS) radiocarbon technique. Only tiny samples are used for this technique. We chose fragments of six worked and natural wooden objects to submit to the laboratory. (Extracting these fragments did not destroy the objects.)

One test of the integrity of an archaeological site is whether a series of radiocarbon dates fall in a cluster in time. If we are told that the dates are quite recent, or represent a wide range of dates, we will have to reconsider our hypothesis of how the site was formed.

Dates will be reported to us in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, we are reaching out to a variety of scholars who we hope will be able to help us understand what an undersea site might look like. Using a new, refined model of what to expect if site 82 is an ancient structure, we plan to study the artifacts and deposits at a number of levels. The muck will be analyzed to determine its microscopic structure, its phosphate content (a signal for human occupation and trash), its possible content of charred or waterlogged seeds, bones, and shells, and any occurrence of pollen or silica cell wall remains of crops or other land plants. The wood itself will be identified and compared to modern and prehistoric forest cover in northern Turkey. At the same time, we will be examining the contours of the Black Sea floor to most precisely locate site 82 in its geographic context, both during the period it would have been on dry land, and since the time it must have flooded.

Our visual “fix” on site 82 using remote video technology was immediate and compelling. Now, we are excited to be able to test and evaluate our impressions, and to tie these finds to our other research projects on ancient Black Sea peoples.

No comments: