The Deluge is the term usually used when referring to the biblical flood of Noah. It might perhaps be more accurate to use the plural, as there is evidence of several large-scale catastrophic inundations within the memory of man. The Noachian deluge has been the subject of continuous debate: was it real or pure fantasy, was it a local, regional or global and is the Ark to be found on Mt. Ararat.
The most recent controversy concerns a Babylonian tablet which, unlike the biblical record, describes an ark 70 metres in width and round in shape(c)(e). This would have been recorded a thousand years before the Genesis story was written down. Understandably, this has caused the knickers of some fundamentalist Christians to be seriously twisted! This has now been expanded on by Irving Finkel in The Ark before Noah. Another eye-catching theory is that of Thomas J. Krupa (1930- ), author of Biblical Flood: Noah’s Ark and the Star of David, in which he claims that the keel of the Ark was shaped like the Star of David! Equally radical is the result of a high-tech study of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls which suggest that Noah’s Ark was pyramidal in shape(j)! Commenting on this report, Jason Colavito, pointed out that the concept of a pyramid shaped ark is not new(k).
A life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark is due to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Holland in the summer of 2016(i). It was built over a four year period by carpenter, Johan Huibers, completing it in 2012. It is 410 feet long, 95 feet wide and 75 feet tall. It weighs 2,500 tons and is said to hold more than 5,000 people at any one time. However, there is no provision for animals!
An interesting overview of traditional as well as modern thinking regarding the possible historical reality behind the Deluge of Genesis is presented(f) by Robert Squillace on the New York University website.
Even more radical is the claim by Hebrew scholar Richard Seary that the Ark never actually existed, but that conventionally accepted understanding of the Genesis text is the result of a number of incorrect translations(d). One example being that there is no such material as gopher-wood and that the word ‘gofer’ means lava!
The Flood of Noah is an echo of the Babylonian Gilgamesh epic, which in turn has a resonance with the deluge story of Manu in Indian mythology. If all three relate to the same event it would be of interest to discover its origin.
Many Atlantologists have sought to link the Deluge with the inundation of Atlantis. Egerton Sykes was a keen supporter of the idea. Joseph S. Ellul has interpreted the biblical story to support the idea of a landbridge at Gibraltar that eventually collapsed when the waters of the Atlantic rose after the last Ice Age.
Ellul maintained that Genesis 7:11 ‘All the springs of the Great Deep broke through’ is a reference to the percolation of the Atlantic waters, through the Gibraltar dam, that eventually led to its collapse as the sea level rose or was shattered by seismic or tectonic movements. I find it hard to accept this, because the pressure that is exerted by the Atlantic, would have rapidly changed any such seepage into a major breach and the subsequent collapse of the dam. Gerhard F. Hasel, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology offers a more conventional interpretation of “the fountains of the great deep” in a paper with the same name(h).
Alexander and Edith Tollman link the Noachian Deluge with the consequences of a cometary impact in 7552 BC. On the other hand, G. F. Dodwell the Australian astronomer, after studying ancient gnomons, concluded that it was a worldwide catastrophe in 2345 BC that altered the earth’s tilt, leading to the Deluge. This is comparable with the 1696 claim by William Whiston that the earth had an encounter with a comet in 2346 BC, which caused the Flood of Noah. Emilio Spedicato advocates 3161 BC as the date of the biblical deluge(l). which has also been endorsed by Stuart L. Harris(n).
On a more controversial level, Donald Patten and Samuel Windsor present evidence for a series of close encounters between Mars and the Earth during the 1st millennium BC. David Rohl, the Egyptologist, dates Noah’s Flood at 3114 BC and links it with the climatic consequences of a major catastrophe in the Aleutian Islands.
Ancient flood stories are to be found around the world with a remarkable similarity of detail. It is worth pointing out that none of these legends ever recount the ‘hero’ of their particular tale returning to his former home. One simple explanation for this might be that the original homelands no longer existed. This would not normally be the case if the floods in question were tidal, storm driven or even giant tsunamis. However, if the inundations were the result of rising sea levels, resulting from the melting of Ice Age glaciers, we could expect two principal effects. The first would have been the gradual submergence of all low-lying flood plains that are now identified as continental shelves. Two of the best known of these would be the Sunda Shelf (Sundaland) and the area stretching from the west coast of mainland Europe across the North Sea encompassing the British Isles and into the Atlantic beyond Ireland. The second effect would have been the dramatic inundation of valleys and basins protected by low land bridges or dams. Again, we have examples, some debatable, such as, the Baltic, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and perhaps the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Japan. It is very interesting that so many of the deluge stories include a scenario where the ’hero’ is warned beforehand of the impending doom. To me, this would make sense that where a land bridge was threatened by gradually rising waters on one side, simple observation would have provided adequate time to warn those at risk on the other side.
The flooding of all these worldwide locations would have occurred over an extended period following the last Ice Age, possibly providing the basis for the widespread existence of these flood myths.
Nick Thom, an Engineering lecturer at Nottingham University, has written The Great Floodwhich gives an overview of Flood myths, but more importantly identifies the emptying of glacial Lake Agassiz around 6250BC as the mechanism which caused a tilting of the Earth, which in turn generated a global deluge remembered by the survivors in myth and later recorded in scriptures.
A website with a huge collection of worldwide flood myths is available online(b). However, one omission from all such collections is a contribution from Egypt who inexplicably has no such tradition.
Plato’s story of Atlantis makes mention of a number of major floods during the ‘9,000’ years following the war with Atlantis, one of these being the flood of Deucalion. However, it may be worth mentioning that with so many ancient cultures having recorded flood myths, Egypt is notable by having none!
Stephen Oppenheimer mentions three sudden ice-melts, 14,000, 11,500 and 8,000 years ago that would have had a global effect. It should be noted that the earliest date is close to the date given by Plato for the destruction of Atlantis.
As I see it, we are left with two explanations for the global flood myths, either a close encounter with an extraterrestrial body that created a mega tsunami that was on such a scale that it swept around the globe, perhaps a number of times before dissipating or the melting of the Ice Age glaciers produced the cyclical bursting of ice-dams and landbridges and the inundation of vast areas of low-lying land(a). I’m inclined to believe that the balance of probabilities favours the latter explanation, although I find it difficult to accept that gradual deglaciation would have generated floods that ‘covered mountains’ (Gen. vii.19)!
Kirk Kirchev in a recent (April 2018) two-part article(m) “offers a unifying scientific hypothesis that connects diverse ancient flood myths with mainstream scientific fact.”
T. R. Holme has an interesting article(g) on the flooding of the Black Sea and the migration from the region that resulted. He also links that event with the work of the late Marija Gimbutas.
(a) http://wapedia.mobi/en/Deluge_(prehistoric) (offline March 2015)
(d) Fortean Times, April 2014, p.55
Ice Dams were not uncommon following the ending of the last Ice Age. Glacial Lake Missoula in North West America has been estimated to have burst out every fifty years or so over a two thousand year period between 13,000 and 11,000 BC. These events are dealt with in detail by David Alt in his Glacial Lake Missoula. Lake Agassiz was another enormous lake formed by glacial run-off after the last Ice Age and at its maximum extent was larger than any lake existing in the world today. There is evidence that Lake Agassiz like Missoula also breached ice dams from time to time, discharging into the Atlantic. Other large and frequent breaching of ice dams occurred in the Siberian Altai Mountains(c)(d)(e). A USGS report listing the largest of these events is available online(b).
Recent reports(g)(h)(i) claim that around 6200 BC the bursting of an ice dam in Canada released the melt water contents of Lake Agassiz and Lake Ojibway into the North Atlantic that resulted in Greenland being cooled by an average of 7.4ºC and Europe by about 1ºC and raising the global sea level by between one and three metres (3-10 feet).
Equally dramatic was the extent of the flooding in Eurasia following the collapse of north Asian ice dams. Ronnie Gallagher has an interesting article about this on Graham Hancock’s website(a). Gallagher favours a Eurasian location for Atlantis.
*Professor Neil Glasser from Aberystwyth University is the lead author of a report published in 2016 in Scientific Reports, in which the breaching of an ice dam in South America, between 11,000 and 6,000 BC, was on such a scale that it altered the circulation of the Pacific Ocean. Glasser noted(f) that: “This was a massive lake. When it drained, it released around 1150km3 of fresh water from the melting glaciers into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – equivalent to around 600 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. This had a considerable impact on the Pacific Ocean circulation and regional climate at the time.”*
(c) http://www.ica.csic.es/dpts/suelos/hidro/images/chapter_27_phefra.pdf (offline 1/6/15)
(g) Science – Dec. 22, 2000
(h) Proceedingsof the National Academyof Sciences – DOI:10.1073/pnas.0510095103]
(i) Quaternary Science Reviews –vol 25, p 63]
The Deglaciation that occurred at the end of the last Ice Age has attracted a lot of attention from Atlantis seekers because it coincides with Plato’s apparent date for the destruction of Atlantis and provides us with a possible source of the flood that subsequently not only wiped out the Atlanteans but possibly also the Athenians. However, meltwater from deglaciation causes global sea levels to rise very, very, slowly and so is extremely unlikely to have caused the destruction of the Atlanteans or Athenians as described by Plato.
The melting of the ice caps gradually caused the ocean levels to rise over a period of thousands of years and at times the retreat of the glaciers was halted and occasionally reversed. Although the melting of the ice was relatively steady, the water produced did not always reach the sea in a steady flow. Instead, it was frequently punctuated by enormous discharges of water particularly where ice dams had retained vast melt water lakes.
In the 1920’s a maverick geologist, J. Harlen Bretz (1882-1981), postulated that a huge ice-age flood had carved the landscape of Eastern Washington state, in just a few days. In spite of acrimonious opposition from the geology establishment of the day, Bretz persevered with his investigations, which eventually led to the identification of Lake Missoula as the probable culprit. Bretz was finally vindicated in 1979 when, in his nineties, he was awarded the prestigious Penrose Medal for his work(f). There is a beautifully illustrated National Geographic online article that reviews Bretz’s work(i).
These discharges of huge quantities of water are recognisable as relatively sudden spikes in the rate of sea level increases and are referred to as Melt Water Pulses WMP).
Lake Missoula in what is today the state of Montana is one of the best studied of these glacial lakes. The regular discharges from Lake Missoula, following ice dam collapses, were responsible for the creation of the dramatic scablands of the North-Western United States. Studies have revealed that between forty and eighty such floods were released from Lake Missoula alone.
However, an alternative to Lake Missoula as the cause of the scablands has been recently proposed(g), namely, the younger-dryas comet impact event. This event was highlighted by Richard Firestone and his colleagues in The Cycle of Cosmic Catastrophes. My problem with the idea of the comet impact is that it was a single event, whereas the Missoula discharges were numerous.
The power of fast flowing water was recently highlighted by a report published(c) in the journal of America’s National Academy of Sciences, where a study of Iceland’s unpronounceable Jokulsargljufur canyon indicated that this huge feature was created in a matter of days. In Iceland, such glacial outburst floods are known as Jökulhlaups(d).
It has now been estimated by scientists that around 6200 BC the ancient glacial Lakes Agassiz and Ojibway discharged into the Atlantic Ocean. These lakes were more than twice the size of the Caspian Sea and on their own are estimated to have raised sea levels by up to 4 feet. The freshwater flow is calculated at between 25 and 50 times the flow of the Amazon River and recent studies suggest that this sudden inflow of fresh water brought the Gulf Stream to a halt for more than a hundred years. A 2016 report(e) from CAGE (Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Climate and Environment) suggests that the Gulf Stream was not interrupted during the Ice Age.
Nick Thom has suggested that an even more dramatic consequence of the discharge from Lake Agassiz was the tilting of the Earth’s axis leading to the biblical Deluge and recorded around the world in hundreds of flood myths!
Similar melt water lakes across Northern Europe retained by ice dams produced equally dramatic discharges as the dams periodically broke. One of these occupied what is now the Baltic Sea and was 30 metres above the then ocean level before bursting into the North Sea around 10,000 BC. Less well known is the flooding that took place further east resulting in the creation of a vast inland sea of which the Black and Caspian Seas were just a small part. Ronnie Gallagher has written a revealing paper on the subject(a).
It is worth noting that, although on a smaller scale, two thirds of the thousands of Himalayan glaciers contain glacial lakes, which because of global warming today are growing at risk of bursting with consequent catastrophic results. As these glaciers retreat, apart from the damage to people and property the discharges will gradually reduce the downstream flow of water to rivers such as the Ganges.
paleoclimatologist, Hartmut Heinrich, who as recently as 1988 published evidence that there had been at least six massive discharges of icebergs from the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the last Ice Age. These discharges could have contained millions of cubic kilometres of ice and must have caused substantial sea level rises. This Laurentide Ice Sheet was an enormous mass of ice that stretched from the Arctic through eastern Canada to the northern half of the United States that covered over 5 million square miles. The weight of this ice sheet was so great that it has been calculated that it depressed the earth’s crust by nearly half a mile. A recent paper contends that it was the collapse of this ice sheet, 8000 years ago causing a sea level rise that led to the breaching of a ridge damming the Bosporus and the inundation of the then freshwater Black Sea, which flooded over 73,000 square km of land.
In the southern hemisphere it was discovered a few years ago (Science, Dec.22, 2000) that the River Amazon had experienced a doubling of its outflow between 9800 BC and 9700 BC, probably as a consequence of the melting of Andean glaciers and perhaps increased rainfall during this period. The dates proposed are very close to the 9600 BC date provided by Plato for the submergence of Atlantis.
All these worldwide discharges must have resulted in the inundation of low-lying landmasses, such as the Celtic Shelf or Sundaland, in fits and starts forcing the inhabitants of these regions to regularly migrate to higher ground.
Since it is reasonable to assume that a large percentage of human settlements were then, as now, located along coasts, particularly at river mouths, the consequence for these embryonic cultures must have been catastrophic. It is very easy to see how legends of sunken civilisations probably have a very sound basis in fact. Two books by Graham Hancock and Stephen Oppenheimer have covered this idea in greater detail, lending credibility to the idea of a sunken island such as Atlantis.
However, it can be reasonably argued that the effects of deglaciation are not what Plato described. He spoke of earthquake and a flood that overwhelmed both the Athenians and the Atlanteans. This would more closely match the aftermath of a large seismic or tectonic event that generated enormous tsunamis rather than the gradual rising of sea levels, which even at its most dramatic could never have produced the effect of sinking Atlantis overnight.
However, the waters of tsunamis eventually flow back to the sea, but Plato’s account describes the event resulting in the creation of muddy shallows. To me it sounds more like liquefaction which occurs in soil with particular characteristics when subjected to an earthquake(b), similar to the destruction of the cities of Canopus and Herakleion near Alexandria.
A website that graphically illustrates the process of deglaciation after the last Ice Age is available(h).
(b) http://www.ce.washington.edu/~liquefaction/html/why/why1.html (offline June 2016) See: https://web.archive.org/web/20160316063736/http://www.ce.washington.edu/~liquefaction/html/why/why1.html