Skip to comments.The great flood legends - ancient misreadings of the fossil record?
Posted on 06/21/2004 7:49:48 AM PDT by aculeus
Over the past two decades there have been renewed attempts to search for remains of Noah's ark and to discover evidence of the biblical Flood itself. In the early 1980s, several expeditions led by an American astronaut and others ascended Mt. Ararat, the legendary resting place of Noah's ark in northern Turkey, in an unsuccessful search for remains of the ark. More recently, evidence has been reported that the Black Sea may have formed suddenly about 7500 years ago by break-through flooding from the Mediterranean Sea (Ryan & Pitman 1998; Ballard 2001). These authors speculate that this natural disaster (for the then dwellers of the Black Sea basin) was the source of biblical and other ancient deluge legends.
It has been generally assumed that since the Flood is such a detailed and epic part of the book of Genesis, the Flood must have really happened. But what if the ancients among whom the story originated simply, but falsely, inferred from perceived evidence around them, that a flood of such great magnitude must have occurred sometime in their past? Their seemingly irrefutable evidence may be no more than the presence of marine fossils in high elevations.
Fossils of marine organisms, especially shellfish like clams and other molluscs, and sometimes fish, can be found in relatively high elevations in many places around the world. They are found throughout the Near East and countries bordering the Mediterranean. These include Egypt and Libya (Turek et al. 1989:303-306), Lebanon (Case 1982:412-415), and in the mountains and hills of Armenia, Syria, Israel, Egypt and Jordan (deMaillet 1968:70,89,96,249,267,292,299,304). An extreme example in the Western Hemisphere is shown in Figure 1.
Now, to the ancients, fish and/or seashell fossils up in the hills and mountains naturally implied that water levels at some time in the past had to be that high. How else would those seashells get up there?
In the experience of the ancients, only a persistent, calamitous flood could account for such high water in a region that is otherwise largely desert, and where the nearest lakes and seas are far below the elevations where some of these fossils are found.
The world-wide occurrence of marine fossils in high elevations can explain why stories of a great flood are found in the folklore or legends of ancient peoples in diverse places around the globe (Bright 1961; Wickersham 2000: 66-69). It is understandable that primitive peoples had no other conclusion to draw than that a deep flood, one like no other in their experience, must have put those seashells way up there. They did not know about mountain building and the geological processes that can raise fossil-bearing, sedimentary rock strata to great heights. In their minds, the mountains and hills had always been there, just as they saw them, from the beginning of time. The mountains never changed over their lifetime or even over generations. They had no way of knowing about the slow geological processes that we know about today.
The occurrence of marine fossils in high elevations also explains the ancient conclusion that a flood that deep must have covered the whole earth. To the ancients, a global flood also seemed to nicely explain why seashells were found on the hills and mountains in distant countries as well.
In any case, if this fossil explanation is correct, then searches for any remains of Noah's ark and for evidence of the Great Flood will continue to be futile, despite the possible discovery of major, local events like the filling of the Black Sea. The evidence today is the same evidence the ancients had---marine fossils on mountains and hills. They needed a great flood to explain why seashells were up that high. We know today that those marine creatures lived in low-lying lakes or seas millions of years ago. Their fossilised remains were gradually lifted to present-day heights by slow, mountain-building processes that were totally unknown to the ancients.
So it is simply the lowly, or should we say lofty, fossil that is probably the culprit behind the Great Flood stories around the world. Some writers and thinkers from early Christian times to the present have cited fossils as evidence of the Great Flood (Halstead 1982: 10, 32, 70-72). But nobody seems to have considered the possibility that the ancient contributors to Genesis did the same.
BALLARD, R.D. 2001 Deep Black Sea. National Geographic, May 2001: 52-69. BRIGHT, J. 1961 Has Archaeology Found Evidence of the Flood?, in G. Wright & D. Freedman (eds.), The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, 1: 32-40. New York: Doubleday. CASE, G.R. 1982 A Pictorial Guide to Fossils. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold. DE MAILLET, B. 1755. Telliamed. (English translation, 1968) Urbana (IL): University of Illinois Press. HALSTEAD, L.B. 1982 The Search for the Past. New York: Doubleday. RYAN, W. & W. PITMAN 1998 Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries about the Event that Changed the World. New York: Simon & Schuster. TUREK, V., J. MAREK & J. BENES. 1989. Fossils of the World. New York: Arch Cape Press. WICKERSHAM, J.M. (ed.). 2000. Myths and Legends of the World. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Figure 1: Marine Fossils on Top of the Andes Mountains. More than 500 giant fossilised oysters were found 3000 metres (about 2 miles) above sea level in Peru in 2001 by Arturo Vildozola, palaeontologist with the Andean Society of Paleontology. (photo from AP/Wide World Photos)
Fossils begot floods ping.
Its all water under the bridge.
So, how'd the coal get so deep ?
I suspect that it takes longer than 40 days and nights for those oysters to grow that big.
I also think that the Black Sea theory re. the Great Flood is a good theory.
Perhaps the fossil records are not too accurate, but Life on Earth is much older than thousands of years old. Millions of years old seems more accurate.
I don't need to refute the fossil records in order to believe in our Creator or to believe in the Creator of the Universe or to believe that the Bible is founded on the strongest foundation.
counting the minutes until the first reactionary creationist doesn't read the whole article to realize it does not support their fantasy...
Other thing of note is that there are plenty of ancient peoples that have no "flood myth" at all.
Is this the Russ McGlenn thread?
Man, wouldn't those make some awesome oyster stew!
I've also read recent articles that place the Biblical accounts of Noah as being based upon legends of the ancient Babylonians. Those accounts predate the Bible by several thousand years, and would have been available to the Jews who were taken to Babylon.
"It has been generally assumed that since the Flood is such a detailed and epic part of the book of Genesis, the Flood must have really happened."
There are numerous other detailed epics from ancient peoples (Greeks, Egyptians, China...) does that mean all those things happened as well? If one detailed ancient epic 'must have really happened' - why not all of them? Bedtime stories are fun but they sure aren't science.
I don't care what you say, I'm still not gonna let Ted Kennedy drive me to the party!
Well, new soil is constantly being laid down over the old do to volcanic eruptions, earth movement tectonic activities, etc.
While this doesn't amount to much over a year's time frame -over a period of thousands of years it adds up - even over a few hundreds of years. Look at ancient cities, Roman ruins - they are all below curren ground levels.
Coal deposits were laid down millions of years ago.
I think the scholarly consensus is that the Noah's ark story was written before the exile.
Or Oysters Rocky-feller.
I don't know about that, but it wouldn't matter. Abraham came from ancient Sumeria, so presumably he -- and thus the ancient Hebrews -- already knew the Sumerian legends.
coal fired placemarker
Thanks for the ping!
I'm glad you brought up Gilgamesh, however, because there is a tremendous amount of literary evidence that parts of the Bible were modeled after passages of Gilgamesh.
I had a student once in a World Literature class I was teaching who compared Gilgamesh to the Biblical stories of Saul and Samuel.
The comparisons are striking, especially as to the characters.
Right-o. Also, every single ancient civilization was built next to a river, or better yet, the confluence of rivers. Flooding was perhaps an annual event at the very least for almost every ancient city. That explains why so many different cultures have the flood stories, rather than say, blizzard or tornado stories.
Floods also were used for early farming techniques and were an integral part of ancient life. It's easy to surmise how the Noah story (and the others) came to be.
The cognate languages for Sumerian are, interestingly enough Saami (found in Northern Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia), an ancient non-Han written language found in China, and the ONLY American Indian language to be successfully linked to an Old World language.
These languages in turn may be related to the Dravidian languages, and all of them related to the Uralic-Altaic group (although primarily in vocabulary, but not in grammar).
There are Saami petroglyphs in Finland and Russia drawn on the underside of cliffs that are estimated to be about 7,700 years old. With a bit of understanding of Arctic cultural customs and the place of the shaman in society, you can make out the Story of Lot's experience after the flood, including why momma turned to stone, and why poppa ended up in the tent with the daughters!
(Curious? The deal is the mother failed to make suitible arrangements for her daughter's marriages, hence she turned into stone and the girls slept with their father ~ certainly enough incentive for any woman to make sure the girls got safely married off.)
It's believed the Saami have been in the area up to 10,000 years (or back to the time when the North American ice sheet melted), and may have spent most of the last full glaciation in the area!
Their stories, if taken South as they followed the herds to Mesopotamia, would include a great flood from when Antarctica melted (which should have sent massive soliton waves up to 2 or 3 miles high crashing Northward into most of the populated places around the world in that day).
They'd also have stories of a slower rise in sealevels at the time North America melted. Once in Mesopotamia, they could have added to the basic flood story.
Note, too, the Lot story and the Great Flood probably came in the same package.
The basic Great Flood story among the Dravidian speaking peoples of India (which is incorporated in Hinduism where Krishna manifests himself as the Great Fish) is less elaborate than the Sumerian Flood story. It, too, is found in the most ancient written documents in that part of the world. Again, it's not surprising to find a Saami story showing up in the hands of folks speaking cognate languages.
Oysters Rockefeller ?
260 million years or so for bituminous coal. I think the anthracite is much older based on hardness and how folded the seams are today.
"Figure 1: Marine Fossils on Top of the Andes Mountains. More than 500 giant fossilised oysters were found 3000 metres (about 2 miles) above sea level in Peru..."
Try eating a dozen of THOSE!
Great a myth knew about a legend...
Well, anthracite isn't necessarily older, the key thing is that it just received much more pressure and heating than bituminous; Eastern PA has anthracite because it was closer to the mountain-building episodes and plate/island collisions (hence the folding) than the Bituminous coal around Pittsburgh.
I wonder if anyone has ever done a thorough study on the forces that created the various coals of the US. I've always thought the HGI and FSI measurements might be an indicator of age. Likewise various vol contents might indicate age and/or pressure.
Huh? People were (and are) always coming up with stories to explain stuff they find (c.f. "faerie rings).
BTW, there is no physical evidence for a universal flood.
Then you have http://www.lostlanguages.com/ which will give you a "Turk's eye view" of the whole business. There are some claims here that are a bit over the top, but not as far as you might imagine. Remember, the relationship between Sumerian and the Dravidian languages, and them with Turkish languages, is a relatively recent discovery. 100 years ago nobody even knew Sumerian existed!<P>To say the least, virtually none of the modern Dravidian speakers resembles in the slightest the ancient speakers.
If you are lucky you will latch on to some of the discussion boards where experts in this widely known field discuss the real relationships among the Finno-Ugric languages. These guys get excited ~ pulling knives, kicking shins, oh, my the blood!
You might well look up "odin, thor, herb woman, raindeer man, and little redman" ~ then "soma" ~ this is the really old tyme religion ~ still practiced in some places!
There are books and books and books that detail how the Saami religious practices have spread throughout the world, even to the still primitive Indo-Europeans who were just then invading the Valley of the Indus thousands of years ago.
It's also fair to presume the Sumerians' ancestors survived at least one and maybe several "Great Floods" besides those they encountered in Mesopotamia.
Actually, the Sumerians and their Saami relatives might well have been among the few human beings to survive the melting of Antarctica. When that happened ocean levels rose hundreds of feet drowning all human habitation in our natural range ~ river estuaries!
If petroleum is supposed to be a non-renewable resource and a product of organic material that was buried, how come it only is found thousands of feet underground and below the fossil record?
That has always been a more fascinating mystery to me than the Biblical Flood.
Here you have a layer of coal with basalt rock (cooled molten lava) on top of it, sealed up for the ages. Not only that, there may be another layer underneath the first one.
Had the hapless forest (or other plant life) been left on the surface of the ground, it would have slowly rotted, oxidized and gone away, never to be seen again.
Those layers of coal could tell us much more about the pre-history of the earth if we were interested enough to study them.
What is the current thinking on the time frame? A slow melt wouldn't do the job. A rapid rise in sea level would, I presume, require that a massive continental ice pack broke free and slid quickly into the ocean. Is there evidence for this?
I have stood on a coal seam and looked up at eighty feet of shale wall (in an open pit mine) and wondered how long it took for the coal to solidify and how the heck all that shale got on top of it. A further puzzle; just above the shale, in certain locations contained in a clay band, was another thin seam of coal...
Are you a turtle?
That's an easy question to answer. The answer is, "you're quite mistaken about petroleum only being found deep, and there are many mechanisms by which biogenerated petroleum can end up in so-called 'basement reservoirs'".
Where did you get these fallacies -- creationist tracts, or anti-oil-industry conspiracy sites?
The world's first successful drilled oil well was the Drake well in Titusville Pennsylvania, in 1859. It struck oil at the depth of a whopping 69.5 feet. That's not a typo.
Drake chose this area because people had been striking oil accidentally while digging water wells.
I'm sorry, did I hear you say that petroleum is only found at depths of thousands of feet?
Sure, most modern wells are typically thousands of feet deep, but only because a) we're able to drill that deep now with high-tech equipment, and b) the "easier" shallower fields have mostly already been drilled and drained over the past 140+ years.
Here's a depth distribution of US oil-producing formations:
As for "below the fossil record", note that life existed on Earth long before it developed hard body parts (like shells) which would readily fossilize. "Below the fossil record" is not synonymous with "below the point where there was life".
But in any case, there are known ways by which biogenic petroleum can end up in basement rock, including:
There are many possible sources for the oil accumulations in basement reservoirs, however, three sources are referenced most commonly:
- Overlying organic rock from which the oil was expelled downward during compaction.
- Lateral, off-the-basement but topographically lower, organic rock from which oil was squeezed into an underlying carrier bed through which it migrated updip into the basement rock.
- Lower, lateral reservoirs from which earlier trapped oil was spilled due to tilting or overfilling (Landes et al, 1960).
Mechanisms have been identified that could allow the downward migration of oil into fractured basement when fracture dilation is caused during shearing in an anisotropic stress field (Pine & Batchelor, 1984). Dilatancy in the underlying reservoir rock reduces hydrostatic pressures in local areas of deformation. Pressure gradients are thereby established between the potential basement reservoir rocks and the overlying source and carrier beds containing oil, gas and water. Thus, a tendency to 'suck in' fluids into the basement rocks will be created; this view is supported by direct observation, McNaughton (1953) and McNaughton & Garb (1975).
Think of the ice dam that kept Lake Agassiz in place only on a far larger scale.
At some point this structure would have to break, either due to melting, or earth movements. When that happened the entire mass of melt water, and residual ice, would immediately rush to the North, but in such vast quantities that the wave forms could not be contained locally. A soliton, or near soliton would be created around the perimeter.
This soliton would move North until it crashed into a continental land mass. Think of the Cheetah ~ they are so genetically identical it is thought that 14 thousand years ago (about the time of the Antarctic melt) that all of their kind but one mother with two kits were destroyed. They live ONLY in Southern Africa! Most everything in the South up to the Khalahari desert would probably have been destroyed by this soliton. A mother cheetah in a deep cave could have crawled out to a strange world for sure.
To the East, the Soliton would have devastated everything from Kenya to Indonesia along the coast, and as far inland as a 2 mile high mountain of water can go.
Further East, and North of the Equator, converging solitons might have raised even higher ~ maybe to 4 or 5 mile heights. They would crash into Japan, Siberia, Beringia, and the North American coast all the way to Baja.
This could be a very good reason why we don't have any good evidence of early human habitation in North America! South America would be as thoroughly devastated.
Even high civilization would be ground up like so much dust.
So, who would be left after this event? Well, people in Central Africa, those in Northern Europe and Asia, and folks in the Himalayan highlands would still be around.
And, if you take a good look, that's who we've got these days ~
BTW, I'm not a geophysicist by any means but I've been thinking about this problem for many years as a result of reading an analysis that has the entire Antarctic meltoff occuring as a slow runoff that creates a gentle 66 foot rise in the ocean that took hundreds of years.
The article at http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/03/0317_030317_iceshelf.html touches on the idea, but it still projects a slow runoff over 200 years. This does not affect the propagation of the soliton! The soliton wave moves North rapidly using the deep ocean medium in which it finds itself. The body of water that generated it follows slowly behind raising the ocean levels by 66 feet. Unfortunately for the surviving humans, the soliton destroyed the existing shorelines in their favorite warm climate estuaries.
No doubt the survivors would have noticed both the passing of the soliton and the subsequent flood. I suppose this would be considered a Universal Flood.
Right! However it happened, it had to be catastrophic!
I was reading in "Power" magazine (a trade magazine for the power industry, where they use a lot of coal) where some operator found a bracelet stuck in a lump of coal as it went up a conveyor in a power plant.
I'd love to see the explanation of that one!
These were oral stories before they were written. It is not known with whom the stories originated. Gilgamesh is certainly old, but does it stem from something more ancient? ---probably.