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In Search of Noah’s Flood
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The Black Sea

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By Robert D. Ballard Photographs by Randy Olson

Ancient shipwrecks and telltale shells bring to life epics of distant trade and a prehistoric flood.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

One goal remained: We still needed to get to the murky bottom of the sea beyond 600 feet (185 meters). But the continental shelf drops off precipitously around 700 feet (200 meters), and the slopes are covered with debris from landslides. Northern Turkey lies on the Anatolian Fault, where earthquakes have been reshaping the land for millions of years. The very center of the sea, more than 7,000 feet (2,150 meters) deep, would be clear of landslides, but it would take so long to get there and to get in and out with the machines that it might not be worth the chase.

Nevertheless, we steamed off to “Anoxia,” the sterile heart of darkness, where the plankton that had pranced in the spotlight at shallower depths were limp and simply falling. And here, in rough seas just two days before the expedition ended, our patience rewarded us. Li’l Herc, bumping in the underworld over a thousand feet (300 meters) below, sailed into what at first seemed like a mirage—a fourth wreck, standing tall and gloriously upright, its mast towering 35 feet (11 meters).

We maneuvered the vehicle closer and saw no metal fittings or fasteners, no rigging, no canvas sails. Either from a very poor culture or from a very old one. It was about 45 feet (14 meters) long, hand-hewn, dusted with silt, and so well preserved in the anoxic water that marine archaeologists are still reeling.

A late Roman or early Byzantine vessel from about A.D. 410-520—a 1,500-year-old ship with wood that looked as if it had been hewed yesterday. No one had ever seen a wooden ship from the classical world in this state of preservation. The cargo it carried would be intact too—and filled with answers to the conjectures of a generation of historians and nautical archaeologists.

“The find is extraordinary!” said Cheryl Ward. “There’s no decay. I can see hand-carved stanchions and a rudder post. The ship looks as if it just left the dock.”

Willard Bascom had been right. The bottom of the Black Sea, anathema to life, is a balm for wooden ships. And think: Before the tumult of the flood the lake was fresh and thus without wood-boring mollusks. The fuller picture then is wonderfully bizarre: the possibility that every ship that sailed and perished on the Black Sea, from humankind’s earliest wanderings to our own time—perhaps 50,000 separate wrecks—lies preserved. In poison.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

VIDEO Explorer-in-Residence Robert Ballard describes the trials and triumphs of searching the Black Sea for evidence of Noah’s biblical flood and previews the project’s future.

AUDIO-only (recommended for low-speed connections)
RealPlayer WinMedia

Online Extra
Explore the depths of the Black Sea for evidence of Noah’s flood with this downloadable map and find out what Bob Ballard discovered.

Scientists think they’ve found the site that inspired the story of Noah’s flood. Do you believe that the stories in the Bible are true?
Tell us what you think.

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Sinop, Turkey, is a town whose origins are lost in legend. Some say it was named for a warrior queen of the Amazons. Others, who believe Homer’s Odyssey, label it the land of the one-eyed Cyclops. Autolycus, a companion of Hercules, is described as stranded there among giant cannibals. One story is that he made friends with more hospitable natives and founded a Greek colony in the eigth century B.C. While no evidence has been discovered dating that far back, we know that early Greek colonists from the Aegean coast of Turkey did establish a port in the seventh century, the trading center that still exists today.

Sinop’s Greek ties continued for many centuries. Diogenes, the famous Greek cynic and philosopher, was born there in the late fifth century B.C. The rest of his life, like his birthplace, is legendary. One tale is that he fled Sinop after he was accused of tampering with the town’s currency. Ironically, the alleged counterfeiter renounced all materialism once in Athens and reportedly wandered through the streets with a lamp in broad daylight, searching for one honest man.

—Jeanne E. Peters

Ballard & the Black Sea: The Search for Noah’s Flood
Bob Ballard, the man who found Titanic, finds evidence of a flood of biblical proportions.

Institute for Exploration
Learn about Robert Ballard’s latest underwater research and technology at his Institute for Exploration’s website.

Black Sea Trade Project
Read the field notes and learn about the extensive land surveys conducted since 1996 by the Black Sea Trade Project, the land team of Robert Ballard’s expedition.

Sinop Journal
Explore the harbor and markets of Sinop through the eyes of a University of Pennsylvania student, one of the 1999 Black Sea Project team members.

Institute of Nautical Archaeology
Texas A&M’s Institute of Nautical Archaeology has studied the depths for decades. Take a trip to its undersea projects around the world, including the beaches of D day.


Ascherson, Neal. Black Sea. Hill and Wang, 1995.

Ballard, R.D., D.F. Coleman, and G.D. Rosenberg. “Further evidence of abrupt Holocene drowning of the Black Sea shelf,” Marine Geology (August 2000), 253-261.

Bascom, Willard. Deep Water, Ancient Ships. Doubleday and Company, 1976.

Casson, Lionel. Ships and Seafaring in Ancient Times. University of Texas Press, 1994.

Ryan, William, and Walter Pitman. Noah’s Flood. Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Ryan, William B.F., Walter C. Pitman III, and others. “An abrupt drowning of the Black Sea shelf,” Marine Geology (April 1997), 119-136.


Gore, Rick. “Ashkelon: Ancient City of the Sea,” National Geographic (January 2001), 66-93.

Lost Ships of the Mediterranean. National Geographic Videos, 2000.

Gore, Rick. “Wrath of the Gods: A History Forged by Disaster,” National Geographic (July 2000), 52-71.

Gonzales, Laurence. “Ballard Surfacing,” National Geographic Adventure (Spring 1999), 126-132, 162-167.

Treasures of the Deep. National Geographic Videos, 1998.

White, Peter T. “Crimea: Pearl of a Fallen Empire,” National Geographic (September 1994), 96-119.

Edwards, Mike W. “Ukraine,” National Geographic (May 1987), 595-631.

Severin, Tim. “Jason’s Voyage: In Search of the Golden Fleece,” National Geographic (September 1985), 406-420.

Dwight, Harry Griswold. “The Gates to the Black Sea: The Dardanelles, the Bosphorus, and the Sea of Marmora,” National Geographic (May 1915), 435-459.


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