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Customer Review

on July 6, 2000
This book presents and supports a startling but fascinating thesis in three parts:
The oceanographic part: that a remarkable natural event took place some 7,500 years ago, when the waters of the Mediterranean spilled over a natural dam and poured into the Black Sea basin, at that time containing a fresh-water lake which had evaporated to some 300 ft. below sea level.
The first archaeological part: that the Black Sea basin at the time was home to an early Indo-European culture, later than the Catal Huyuk culture, and that the catastrophic flood dispersed an Indo-European diaspora to the four winds.
The second archaeological part: accounts of this event gave rise to the Mesopotamian flood accounts such as that in Gilgamesh, and ultimately to the story of Noah in the Book of Genesis.
The authors make a case for all this which is convincing at least on the surface. Their own background is geologic/oceanographic, and probably by consequence the first part is the most convincing. (Or it may just be because a submerged beach is easier to find than a drowned culture.) Well, if indeed there is a submerged canyon cut in bedrock at the northeastern end of the Bosporus, leading INTO the Black Sea, then at some time a lot of water must have flowed in that direction; and if there are salt-water shells overlying a layer of fresh-water shells, and radiocarbon shows the lower shells to be 7500 years old; then their case seems pretty strong.
The archaeological stuff is presented in a considerably more disjointed way; there is a long discussion of the Tocharians, a Caucasian people who lived in central Asia until the Takla Makan dried up, who were interesting enough people, I suppose, but the discussion does nothing much for their argument. Still, once you have granted that there was a huge flood in the Black Sea basin as recently as 7500 years ago, then there's nothing very improbable about supposing that it displaced Neolithic people, or that it has something to do with the later flood stories that popped up in the general vicinity. Or so it seems to me anyway.
It is hard to spoil a story like this, but the authors, unfortunately, almost manage it. Somehow they hit on a very bad idea about how to tell this story. They concluded that the raw science was not exciting enough, so they had to jazz it up by telling it as a series of anecdotes about scientists, making them all seem like Indiana Jones. It's as if it's written for an audience with the education of college graduates and the sensibility of high school boys. The book is illustrated with charcoal drawings of these Exciting Adventures. Thus, the first picture in the book is "Henry Creswicke Rawlinson falling down the face of the Behistun rock." I personally would rather have a nice photograph of the Behistun rock. Later on, we are given a breathless account of how Jiri Kukla got into the Eighth Congress of the International Association for Quarternary Research without paying. I don't mind the anecdote, but it's irritating to have these anecdotes frame the whole account.
In accord with the general plan of being exciting, we are given dramatic reconstructions (stories) of witnesses and survivors of the flood, and of "Nur-Aya, the renowned scribe and storyteller", telling a version of the Flood Story in Assyria. These would work better if the tone of the rest of the work were more neutral.
This stylistic flaw leads to a more serious flaw. By turning the whole thing into a whole series of Amazing Stories, the authors never allow themselves time to step back and look at the response to their theses in the field as a whole. As I say, the evidence they present is convincing to ME. But then who am I? I'm no expert on oceanography or archaeology. It's easy to spin a yarn that will fool me. What I want to know is whether these theses are convincing to other people in the fields. Is there acceptance? Are there objections or reservations? What's the next place to look for supporting evidence? Instead, the reader may be left with the nagging worry: is this accepted science, or is this a crackpot scenario, or a mixture of the two?
However, while I am bugged by these problems, I am not as bugged as some; I think the theses is exciting enough, and the science convincing enough, that the book is still well worth reading anyway.
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