Tag Archives: Near East

5,000 year old tokens are game pieces?

The title of a news article at io9 is Archaeologists Unearth Pieces from a 5,000 Year-Old Board Game.

A Turkish archaeologist, of Haluk Sa?lamtimur of Ege University in ?zmir, Turkey, discovered the variously shaped tokens while excavating Bronze Age graves at Ba?ur Höyük near Siirt in southeast Turkey.

From io9.com

From io9.com

Sa?lamtimur, according to the online article at io9, thinks this is evidence of tokens being used as gaming pieces, apparently since they were found in one cache rather than as single, scattered pieces from multiple excavation units.

It’s an interesting hypothesis, but I’d like to see more information, particularly regarding the context(s) surrounding the pieces. Denise Schmandt-Besserat has long held a competing hypothesis about such tokens, which are found throughout the Near East around this time and even earlier. Indeed, some of her finds have been found in contexts which lend her hypotheses much credibility. Schmandt-Besserat sees these as early counting tokens -in short, an accountant’s spreadsheet or ledger. This idea is supported by the discovery of these sorts of tokens in bullae, small hollow balls of clay in which tokens were stored.

The idea is that you put small tokens representing trade items (goats, grain, hides, etc.) in a hollow ball of clay that is fired to harden. Perhaps you’ve pressed the tokens into the soft exterior of the clay before enclosing and firing. The recipient can then receive goods from you through a middleman who knows that the goods are represented by the tokens inside the clay ball. Keeping a little for himself becomes a risky proposition.

Still, it is somewhat fun to think that there were Bronze Age gamer-nerds around 5,000 years ago.

It’s also possible that both hypotheses are correct. Tokens could have been multi-use.

 

The Pseudoarchaeology of Saint John the Baptist

Head of Saint John the Baptist on a plate, a s...
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Yet another example of religiously (and probably nationalistically) motivated pseudoarchaeology has emerged in the news. A Bulgarian archaeologist and at least one overly nationalistic politician with a bad mouth claim to have discovered the remains of Saint John the Baptist in a small reliquary made of alabaster found under the basilica of an ancient monastery.

The remains include a few small cranial, dental, and other bone portions identified as from a hand. On the reliquary, a container that especially designed for “holy” relics, is an inscription which includes, “Sveti Ivan,” which means “Saint John,” along with the date June 24, a day traditionally considered as St. John’s birthday.

Thats it. That’s all the evidence apparently necessary for archaeologist Kazimir Popkonstantinov and Minister Bozhidar Dimitrov to safely conclude that they have, indeed, found the mortal remains of Saint John the Baptist.

Never mind that relic fraud was a very, very common practice in antiquity. Never mind the stories of Saint John’s death and distribution of his remains are inconsistent with what is claimed to be found. Never mind that it appears to be in the best interests of a certain nationalist politician to have a sensational find.

Perhaps this is the remains of John the Baptist. And my natural skepticism of religious claims on reality isn’t the reason I make the accusation of pseudoscience. Its the rush to conclusion and the sensationalist propaganda that gives the unwary public of Bulgaria (and the world) the impression that archaeology is being done -proper, scientific archaeology. When, in fact, quite the opposite is happening. We already know that early churches (as well as modern ones!) are willing to claim possession of of relics that belong to demigods and sub-deities they refer to as “saints” in order to motivate and inspire their tithing memberships. We already have examples of medieval frauds that have been used in this way (the shroud of Turin, for example).

What we don’t have are strontium analyses of these bones, which might reveal whether or not the individual traveled the Near East in the same places as John were alleged to. Or comparisons of the bones to determine if they are even of the same individual. Or of the same sex as John! There aren’t even any radiocarbon dates of the remains that I’ve been able to locate.

But even a simple literary review would reveal some problems with either the remains or what is believed known of John. The cranial remains and post-cranial remains, by legend, are to have been separated. Yet the reliquary has remains that are both cranial and post-cranial. If any of the remains belong to John, then either some do not or what is believed “known” about the man is wrong.

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An Apologist for Noah?

The Deluge tablet, carved in stone, of the Gil...
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I recently received a comment on my post about the pseudoscientific / pseudoarchaeological quest for “Noah’s Ark,” the mythical boat that carried two of “every kind” (which most creationists describe as analogs to “species”) of animal along with a family of the only righteous man in the world for 40 days and nights while the entire world was flooded. This flood myth obviously didn’t happen, which is what I said in my earlier post. But this is, perhaps, not so obvious to those for whom the sciences of geology, biology, and archaeology are not studiously read.

Which is painfully obvious from Rick’s comment to me:

Regardless of whether or not the ark has been found, one of the things I get tired of hearing is the straw man argument about how a worldwide flood is impossible. Those who make arguments such as this show their ignorance of the Bible and its account of the flood. The Bible does not say that every species on the planet was on the ark. It says that two of every kind of land animal was on the ark. That means, two dogs, not two pit bulls and so on. Also, the Bible states that the mountains were raised up and the valleys sank down after the flood. This means that preflood mountains would have been lower than those of today, and it likely means that the oceans were not as deep. Regardless of whether you believe the story or not, if you’re going to try to tear apart the story, at least use the actual text and stop making up your own.

First, a “strawman” argument is one that mischaracterizes the argument of another by restating another’s argument in such a way to make it more easily defeated, leaving the old, but difficult to refute argument behind in hopes that the other will as well.

I made no strawman argument. I said, “obviously a global flood didn’t happen” (or something very close to this). This is obvious since there would be countless examples of physical evidence for such a flood in the geological record. Something similar to the evidence for an asteroid impact that had a global effect at 65 million years ago, which is the K-T boundary -that thin layer of sediment that is found the world over and in the same consistent location of the geologic column. Above this layer the fossil species present take on an entirely new taxonomy -the dinosaurs extinct and their fossil remains lying below. Yet there is no evidence which supports the mythical claim of global flooding. There is plenty of evidence for regionally constrained floods at various places both temporally and geographically, each of these using but a minuscule of the water necessary for a “global flood.” Moreover, there is a continuity present in the archaeological records of civilizations going back to over 10,000 years where human occupation is always present somewhere on the Earth’s surface and in many, many places at once. Where a civilization collapses or evolves, others take its place either elsewhere or in the same locality.

In addition, there is no possibility that a boat was constructed in human history which allowed for two representatives of each species in the Near East, much less the planet, to be safely carried for 40 days. Such an endeavor boggles the mind when one thinks of food, waste, and habitat required. And, in spite of Rick’s attempt to admonish me on the difference between “kind” and “species,” I still don’t see where he’s made a distinction. This is a failing of creationists and biblical literalists that cannot be overlooked.

Finally, his last statement that I should make an effort to use the actual text should I wish to “tear it apart” is worth serious consideration. So here I do so.

The Gilgamesh epic is demonstrably the literary progenitor of the Noachian myth. I’ll include passages from both Genesis and Gilgamesh here in a line-numbered format to compare:
1.
2. At the end of forty days
3. Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and released a raven,
4. Which flew back and forth as it waited for the waters to dry up on the earth
5. Then he released a dove to see whether the waters were receding from the earth
6. But the dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth. Putting his hand out, he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him.
7. After waiting seven more days, he again released the dove from the ark.
8. In the evening the dove came back to him and there in his beak was a freshly-picked olive leaf! So Noah realized that the waters were receding from the earth.
9. After waiting seven more days, he released the dove and now it returned no more.
–Genesis 8:6-12
Now Gilgamesh:
1.
2. When the seventh day arrived,
3. I sent forth and set free a dove.
4. The dove went forth but came back since no resting place was visible, she turned around.
5. Then I set forth a swallow
6. The swallow went forth but came back, since no resting place for it was visible, she turned around.
7. .
8. .
9. I then set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not around.
–Gligamesh XI, 145-54
In the Gilgamesh passage, I left two blank lines to maintain the correlation between the two and show the parallels. The Genesis passage shows clear embellishments (again, a common literary device of the period) I took the Gilgamesh passage from Pritchard (1958, pp 94-95).
It follows that if there are clear parallels and evidence of borrowed motifs between earlier flood myths and the Noachian one, then other sub-myths within the overall myth of Genesis would also be expected to have been borrowed. This isn’t evidence of “intellectual dishonesty” on the part of the authors of Genesis, rather this is evidence of the practice of the day. Nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples (as well as many sedentary peoples) had strong oral traditions (and still do) in which they pass on information from one generation to the next which they find important or vital to their culture. In so doing, embellishments naturally occur in the evolution of the story. What may have once been a factually based account of a real event becomes convoluted and embellished to the point that it can only now be considered a myth. Myths and stories get embellished also due to the encounters of the story-tellers with other story-tellers.
We must consider that even Abram (later “Abraham” in the “J” source, a name redaction justified by the “P” source) admits that he is nomadic and originally Sumerian. The myths in question are, indeed, Sumerian (a.k.a. Chaldean). There is even emerging evidence of a diaspora in the Persian Gulf region, perhaps due to inundation of the Persian Gulf basin before 4,000 BCE, which may be the progenitor for the flood myths themselves. Certainly the origins of the Sumerians (they come from “Dilmun” according to their own writings, a place described as “eden” and “paradise”) is largely a mystery: their language is a linguistic isolate and their religion acculturates itself gradually -almost seamlessly- with the earlier Ubaid culture at around the Jemdat Nasr period (4000-3100 BCE).

The Gilgamesh epic is demonstrably the literary progenitor of the Noachian myth. I’ll include passages from both Genesis and Gilgamesh here in a line-numbered format to compare:

First, Genesis:

1.

2. At the end of forty days

3. Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and released a raven,

4. Which flew back and forth as it waited for the waters to dry up on the earth

5. Then he released a dove to see whether the waters were receding from the earth

6. But the dove, finding nowhere to perch, returned to the ark, for there was water over the whole surface of the earth. Putting his hand out, he took hold of it and brought it back into the ark with him.

7. After waiting seven more days, he again released the dove from the ark.

8. In the evening the dove came back to him and there in his beak was a freshly-picked olive leaf! So Noah realized that the waters were receding from the earth.

9. After waiting seven more days, he released the dove and now it returned no more.

–Genesis 8:6-12

Now Gilgamesh:

1.

2. When the seventh day arrived,

3. I sent forth and set free a dove.

4. The dove went forth but came back since no resting place was visible, she turned around.

5. Then I set forth a swallow

6. The swallow went forth but came back, since no resting place for it was visible, she turned around.

7. .

8. .

9. I then set free a raven. The raven went forth and, seeing that the waters had diminished, he eats, circles, caws, and turns not around.

–Gligamesh XI, 145-54

In the Gilgamesh passage, I left two blank lines to maintain the correlation between the two and show the parallels. The Genesis passage shows clear embellishments (again, a common literary device of the period) I took the Gilgamesh passage from Pritchard (1958, pp 94-95).

It follows that if there are clear parallels and evidence of borrowed motifs between earlier flood myths and the Noachian one, then other sub-myths within the overall myth of Genesis would also be expected to have been borrowed. This isn’t evidence of “intellectual dishonesty” on the part of the authors of Genesis, rather this is evidence of the practice of the day. Nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples (as well as many sedentary peoples) had strong oral traditions (and still do) in which they pass on information from one generation to the next which they find important or vital to their culture. In so doing, embellishments naturally occur in the evolution of the story. What may have once been a factually based account of a real event becomes convoluted and embellished to the point that it can only now be considered a myth. Myths and stories get embellished also due to the encounters of the story-tellers with other story-tellers.

We must consider that even Abram (later “Abraham” in the “J” source, a name redaction justified by the “P” source) admits that he is nomadic and originally Sumerian. The myths in question are, indeed, Sumerian (a.k.a. Chaldean). There is even emerging evidence of a diaspora in the Persian Gulf region, perhaps due to inundation of the Persian Gulf basin before 4,000 BCE, which may be the progenitor for the flood myths themselves. Certainly the origins of the Sumerians (they come from “Dilmun” according to their own writings, a place described as “eden” and “paradise”) is largely a mystery: their language is a linguistic isolate and their religion acculturates itself gradually -almost seamlessly- with the earlier Ubaid culture at around the Jemdat Nasr period (4000-3100 BCE).

So, Rick, as you can see, I used the actual text, that is to say, Gilgamesh, in order to “tear apart” another. Both are made up. Gilgamesh and other stories of flood and deluge in the Near East make no inherent claim to be truthful or “divine word.” Perhaps they were once considered so. Perhaps they were stories based on some kernel of truth -a flood that actually occurred and devastated families and societies along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in antiquity. Evidence of such flooding is present in both the geological and archaeological records. None of these floods are on a scale larger than their local regions.

I created no strawman. It is obvious to those who aren’t overly bound by superstition that a global flood did not occur. It is obvious, too, that there was no “Noah” or an “ark” to waste money looking for. I have great admiration for biblical stories and the knowledge that can be gleaned from them, but at least know where to add the requisite grains of salt to my intellectual meal.

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Application of Cognitive Archaeology

Patterns of thought can be effectively inferred from the material remains of the past. Nicholas Toth[1] conducted experiments in flintknapping in which he discovered patterns he proposed as evidence of right-handedness in hominids reaching into the archaeological record as far back as 1.9 Ma. The study isn’t without its critics[2], but the idea that archaeologists can apply method and theory to the material record which can provide inferences about handedness is important since this would also imply a point at which lateralization of the human brain is occurring as well. Laterality would indicate physical changes in the Homo brain that might allow for language capability, improved motor control, and other specialized adaptations and higher brain functions[3].

Wynn and Coolidge[4] apply the theory of cognitive archaeology to their hypothesis that it was a marked change in human cognitive ability that made it possible for Homo sapiens to displace H. neanderhalensis, which successfully occupied Europe for more than 200,000 years. They note that humans and Neandertals met at least twice in prehistory, once at around 80,000 years ago and again at around 40,000 years ago. The first meeting was one in which the Neandertals migrated into the Near East at the beginning of the last ice age, out-competing their human cousins who appear to have migrated back into Africa. The second encounter, which happened 40,000 years later had a very different outcome. Within just 10,000 years, the Neandertals went extinct after anatomically modern H. sapiens migrated into central Europe. Anatomically, these humans and their Near Eastern predecessors just 40,000 years prior were indistinguishable. Yet there must have been some marked advantage, according to Wynn and Coolidge, which allowed this new turn of events. For the Neandertals, their status quo served them well. No significant innovation appears evident in the archaeological record for 200,000 years until the arrival of H. sapiens. Their hearths were simple and ad hoc, (p.45), they made no apparent use of art or depictions, jewelry or other personal adornments that survived in the archaeological record, until perhaps their encounters with H. sapiens.

In searching for what changes might have occurred to H. sapiens at around 40,000 years ago, Wynn and Coolidge describe recent research in genetics, including that of the FOXP2 gene which was found to be closely associated with language articulation and comprehension and, perhaps, responsible for the abilities of speech and language in humans. While this gene is present in many mammalian species, the version in humans “underwent some unique changes during recent evolution (p. 48).” Additional research, however, has shown this gene to be shared with Neandertals in its human form, implying that the changes occurred prior to the last common ancestor to H. sapiens and Neandertals, eliminating it from list of suspects responsible for the new cognitive advances that gave H. sapiens the advantage over their Neandertal cousins 40,000 years ago.

However, another genetic change these authors explore is the MCPH1 gene, expressed in the fetal brain and perhaps responsible for increased brain size and capability and estimated to have first appeared at around 37,000 years ago where -consistent with the period in which H. sapiens began to dominate the Neandertals. Still, Wynn and Coolidge argue that there must be more than a single genetic change to account for the disparity that is assumed to have existed between the mental capabilities of H. sapiens and Neandertals at their second encounter. They do, in later work, explore the role of the human parietal cortex[5] as a means of increased ability to form concepts such as ontological categories and the results of combinations of these categorical concepts into new, completely abstract concepts and ideas that exist only in the human mind. A non-allometric expansion of the parietal cortex, they propose, would account for the sudden appearance of abstract thought in the material record at around 32,000 years ago as well as the ability to plan and strategize, and thus out-compete the Neandertals. But they admit support for this hypothesis is “paradoxically thin” (p. 78) due to the non-allometric aspect -leaving no outward change in human cranial remains to be discovered and the limitations of artifacts that can survive as examples of technology and subsistence in the material record. It’s important to find artefacts like this that help us understand. Our knowledge of the brain expands as our medical reach does.

One artifact that Wynn and Coolidge do focus on is the Hohlenstein-Stadel figurine (fig. 1), which represents a half-man, half-lion and dates to human culture in Southwestern Germany at about 32,000 years ago, approximately 8,000 years after the expansion of H. sapiens into Neandertal territory. The artifact itself might not mark the actual beginning of abstract thought and planning, the cognitive change that might have made it possible for H. sapiens to dominate and out-compete the Neandertals, since it may very well be that it took a very long time for significant differences in technology, subsistence practices and social interactions to develop (Wynn and Coolidge 2008:51). It may also be that there are other, older artifacts waiting for discovery which are more consistent with the 40,000 year old migration of H. sapiens into Europe.

The Hohlenstein-Stadel figurine itself is a good representation of abstract thinking and executive function because of its subject: a Löwenmensch, or “lion-man.” In order for the individual who carved this 28 cm tall figurine to do so, he would have had to hold in his mind two ontological categories: one of a man and one of a lion, with all the characteristics and features of these two categories understood by the individual. In addition, this individual would have necessarily had to be able to conceive of and execute in figurine form, an abstract combination of these two categories. As Wynn and Coolidge point out, “Löwenmensch,or lion-man, is not of this earth. It melds the cognitively distinct categories of lion and person into a single, abstract entity, endowed no doubt with many features we cannot see.”

Certainly cognitive archaeology can be applied to many other questions of human activity and to the material records of all periods of human history and prehistory. Other applications can easily involve weights and measurements, inferring what standards earlier cultures used in architecture or trade (Renfrew 2009; Renfrew and Bahn 1996). Questions of not only how were weights used by a culture might be explored, but also how did a culture arrive at using a particular weight as a standard to begin with, such as with the stone cubes used as weights in the Indus Valley (3300-1300 BCE). Archaeologists can also use methods and theory of cognitive archaeology to explore the ritual and religious aspects of society and how symbols are used to define their beliefs, or to infer the nature of elite status and the effects elite power on populations subjugated by them. Another example were cognitive archaeological theory can be applied is in exploring the nature of architectural planning as a cognitively held concept such as with the regularity found in the ruins of Mohenjodaro, a city of the Indus Valley civilization, which indicates intention of design. These and many others are examples of how the archaeological record can be used by theory and methods associated with cognitive archaeology to obtain useful insight and information that can both help answer and provide research questions on how past cultures thought and how their thoughts affected the world around them -perhaps even how the world around them affected their thoughts.

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References and Notes:
  1. Toth, Nicholas (1985). Archaeological Evidence for Preferential Right-Handedness in the Lower and Middle Pleistocene and Its Possible Implications. Journal of Human Evolution 14:607-614 []
  2. Patterson, L.W. and J.B. Sollberger (1986). Comments on Toth’s Right-Handedness Study. Lithic Technology 15:109-111 []
  3. Donald, Merlin (1998). Hominid Enculturation and Cognitive Evolution. In Mind and Matter: Cognition and Material Culture. C. Renfrew and C. Scarre, ed. Pp. 7-17. Oxford: Oxbow Books []
  4. Wynn, Thomas, and Frederick L. Coolidge (2008). Stone-Age Meeting of Minds. American Scientist 96:44-51 []
  5. Wynn, Thomas, Frederick Coolidge, and Martha Bright (2009). Hohlenstein-Stadel and the Evolution of Human Conceptual Thought. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 19(1):73-83 []

[Book Review] The Science of Noah’s Flood


IMAGE: BOOK

In reviewing the book, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About The Event That Changed History (Ryan and Pittman, 1998), it must be first noted that the text itself is pleasurable to read. The story of William Ryan and Walter Pittman’s in depth study of the Black Sea is one that gives wonderful insight into the process of developing hypotheses based on observed phenomena as well as the joys and tears of testing those hypotheses. Ryan and Pittman write of mystery, intrigue and even occasional suspense as their journey to discover the secrets of the geologic and anthropological history of the Black Sea, a journey that begins at the height of the Cold War and continues through the present day.

Their book prologues with a speculation of what it may have been like to witness the sudden joining of an ocean with a lake and the havoc wreaked by the volume of water; the sudden necessity to grab what one could and relocate self and family for survival; and the effect that witnessing such a violent and catastrophic act of nature may have had on a people for whom the land and water were under the control of gods or deities. Without question, this prologue is gripping and effective at gaining the interest of the reader.

Early Archaeology in the Near East
The earliest chapters of Noah’s Flood focus on the history of archaeology and geology in the Near East and include relevant anecdotes regarding discoveries of 19th century figures such as Henry Rawlinson and his work on the Behistun Rock in the Zagros Mountains (Ch. 1) and eventual decipherment of the cuneiform code, Austen Layard who excavated the Assyrian palaces (Ch. 3), and George Smith, who pieced together the Gilgamesh epic (Ch. 4). during his restorations of tablets recovered by Layard in Mesopotamia. Ryan and Pittman then leave the 19th century for the early 20th and describe Leonard Woolley’s excavation at Ur (Ch. 5) and the controversy and buzz he began “around the globe” by interpreting a 10-foot silt layer as evidence of biblical flood. This silt layer, of course, is not present at other tell sites near Ur. Ryan and Pittman tell us that it is regarded as a breach in the levee of the Euphrates and considered a “splay deposit” by modern hydrologists (p. 55).

Woolley’s misidentification notwithstanding, the common thread for each of these scientists, including Ryan and Pittman, is the hypothesis that Noah’s flood originated from a Jewish adaptation of the flood tale in Gilgamesh, which, in turn, has its origin in the Atrahatsis. Each of which are motifs of a man in favor with a god, being spared the deluge that consumes the remainder of humanity by escaping in boat (pp. 48-51). Woolley sought to confirm the historicity of the Bible (p. 55), while Ryan and Pittman set out to explain through science an event that may have had a profound effect on the human past.

The Core Hypotheses of Ryan and Pittman
William Ryan and Walter Pittman suggest several hypotheses relating to a change in sea level of the Black Sea during human prehistory. Their first contention is that the change in sea level occurred abruptly and rapidly at around 7150 years BP (Ryan and Pittman, 1998:149-150; Ryan and Pittman, 1997). Ryan and Pittman also suggest that this deluge was the progenitor for regional myths of great floods including those found in Gilgamesh as well as the book of Genesis in the Bible (1998:248-249). This contention would also imply the hypothesis that oral tradition can sustain a myth until such time that a written record could be established with the advent of the technology of writing, at least two thousand years later.

Finally, Ryan and Pittman suggest that the deluge may well be responsible for the spread of farming as a practice into Europe, Egypt and the Near East (1998: Ch. 17; Kerr, 1998). In support of this hypothesis, Ryan and Pittman have cited the sudden appearance of specific civilizations in the archaeological record and speculated that their habitation patterns were a result of cultural fears and norms as a result of their distrust for living in close proximity to major water sources such as rivers and oceans.

In support of the primary hypothesis that the deluge of the Black Sea occurred abruptly and rapidly, Ryan and Pittman cited several key pieces of evidence, most of which were obtained in exploratory expeditions to the Black Sea itself (Ryan and Pittman, 1998: Ch. 11-12; Jones, 1994). Even many opponents of their hypotheses appear to agree that the level of the Black Sea was significantly lower during the prehistory of humans who resided in the area (Deuser, 1974). Disagreement arises, however, in how fast the lake flooded to become an inland, saltwater sea. Some opponents even argue that it wasn’t necessarily fresh or significantly lower prior to 7000 years BP (Aksu et al, 2002).

Previous studies of the Black Sea sedimentology and modeling of the evolution of anoxic conditions indicated a slow progression of fill beginning 9000 years BP and ending at around 7000 years BP (Deuser, 1974). Core samples that Ryan and Pittman recovered during their expedition in the Glomar Challenger in the early 1990s contained mollusk shells at sampled from depths ranging from 123 m to 63 m (Ryan and Pittman, 1998:149; Ryan & Pittman, 1997; Jones, 1994:550). The radiocarbon dating of these samples became the main supporting evidence for the hypothesis that the Black Sea flooded suddenly rather than over a period of 2000 years. The dates of the samples were statistically the same, indicating that anoxic conditions arrived at each of the sampled depths at the same time, killing off the mollusks.

Robert Ballard and the Black Sea
In support of Ryan and Pittman’s hypothesis of a sudden filling of the Black Sea, Robert Ballard, Dwight Coleman, and G. Rosenberg (Ballard et al, 2000) discovered and documented an ancient shoreline near Sinop, Turkey at a depth of 155 m, which consisted of typical beach morphology of beach berm, a low-tide terrace, and longshore sandbar (255). Ballard et al concluded that the consistency of the shoreline as well as the lack of other shorelines in 100 m to 180 m survey range support the hypothesis that its drowning was sudden to the current shoreline. Ballard et al also sampled mollusks from depths between 140 m and 170 m, which were dated by 14C analysis (257-260). Several species each of both freshwater and saltwater mollusk were recovered, demonstrating a clear transition from a lacustrine to a marine environment. The youngest freshwater mollusk was dated to 7450 years BP and the oldest saltwater mollusk at 6820 years BP. Ballard et all concede that the gap of 640 years between mollusk types could be an artifact of sampling or may even indicate the length of time needed for a new species to immigrate (260).

Opposing Views
In opposition to Ballard, Coleman, and Rosenberg’s findings, however, Irena Popescu et al (2004) have examined the ancient shoreline of the Danube Canyon region on the opposite shore from Sinop and have concluded that the lowstand depth was 90 m and not 155 m (258). Their finding was based on the observance of both fluvial channels on the shelf that disappear below 90 m depth and a wave-cut terrace between 90 m and 98 m.

Dwight Coleman, in a personal correspondence (2004), responded that the possibil
ity exists that the shoreline off the coast of Sinop is slightly older than the date of the flood and that the mollusks may have originated from “a shallower, younger shore.” Coleman also pointed out that an ancient shoreline appears to exist off the coast of Bulgaria at around 140 m with something evident at 90 m as well. He suggested that slumping and subsidence due to the Anatolian fault of northern Turkey could explain the discrepancy between shoreline depths.

Criticism was raised (Burkhard, 1998) that in order for the Black Sea to have been a freshwater lake, it must have had a significant outflow as with the Mediterranean Sea, otherwise evaporation would have created a salt lake. Ryan and Pittman responded to this criticism (1998, 24 April) that the existence of a freshwater lake prior to 7500 years BP is confirmed by faunal assemblages and salinity tests of seabed sediments. They also concluded that slight increases in salinity that would come from modest allowances for river discharge would be consistent with observed increases evident in carbonate mud and mollusk shells.

Ali E. Aksu is perhaps one of the more persistent and credible critics of Ryan and Pittman’s hypothesis of catastrophic infill of the Black Sea and has written or co-written no fewer than nine papers that call attention to problems with it. One of Aksu’s more convincing refutations (Aksu, et al, 2002) includes evidence of Black Sea outflow into the Marmara Sea, citing palynological data that supports an outflow hypothesis of the Black Sea across the Bosporus sill to the Marmara Sea. Aksu, et al, also points out the evidence of a delta formed in the Marmara Sea by outflow which contains the sapropel mud of the Black Sea. Sapropel is a “sludge (rich in organic matter) that accumulates at the bottom of lakes or oceans” (Cognitive Science Laboratory, 2005). This, they argue, proves that a connection existed between the two bodies of water for at least 10,000 years.

Part II with references cited in both parts

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