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  Field Notes From
Black Sea Mysteries

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From Author

Robert D. Ballard

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From Photographer

Randy Olson

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Randy Olson (top) and Fen Montaigne

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On the Black Sea

Field Notes From Author
Robert D. Ballard
In 1976 Willard Bascom, a well-known ocean explorer, published a book on deepwater archaeology called Deep Water, Ancient Ships. In that book he made a bold prediction that some of the most perfectly preserved ships in the world would be found in the Black Sea. “It sits upright on the bottom, lightly covered by the sea dust of 2,500 years,” he wrote. “The wave-smashed deckhouse and splintered bulwarks tell of the violence of its last struggle with the sea. A stub of a mast still remains.”
He was perfectly correct. We found his ship in 2000 in the anoxic waters of the Black Sea, where woodborers can’t survive. But instead of a stub of a mast, the mast was complete. I was terribly excited about the find. Ironically, a few days before we discovered this perfect wooden ship, Bascom died after a car accident. His death cast a sadness on the expedition, but what a tribute that discovery was to him.
What we thought to be Stone Age wood artifacts turned out to be recent pieces of wood that had drifted onto the site of human habitation. We were holding our breath hoping that the specimens would be carbon dated at 7,000 years old, but they weren’t. It was several weeks after the expedition before we knew, and we had spent a lot of time, effort, and resources. It was a great disappointment. Once again, a book guided us. While preparing for the expedition to find Bascom’s perfect ship, another book came out called Noah’s Flood, by geologists Walter Pitman and Bill Ryan. In their book they theorized that the great biblical flood occurred in the Black Sea, and that supporting evidence could be found along the ancient shoreline 500 feet (150 meters) underwater. They also predicted that inland from there would be evidence of human habitation.
We found the shoreline precisely where they said. And we found shells—extinct freshwater ones and more recent saltwater ones. The age of those shells indicated that a great flood had washed over 40,000 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) of land. And inland, just as Pitman and Ryan predicted, we found cut stones and soil samples underwater that suggest human presence.

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