Dispatch 4: Home Run

July 11, 1999

(Note: Nationalgeographic.com does not research or edit dispatches.)

“We’re in the ballgame now,” said Bob Ballard after convening the expedition team to make an announcement on board his just docked ship. What he meant was that he found the first real sign to support the theory of a great flood.

Photo of a sonar image of the Black Sea coastline

Spreading out an armful of maps on a makeshift table, Ballard recreated today’s discovery of what appears to be the coastline of an ancient lake in what is now the Black Sea.

A few days ago, two boats armed with ROVs [Remotely Operated Vehicle] and video cameras scoured the sea floor, unsuccessfully seeking to view objects that were targeted by sonar in 1998.

Confident that the survey teams were handling the difficult work, Ballard gunned his boat to about 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers) beyond the shoreline, far past the other two.

He wasted no time going “all out” on a search for the shoreline of an ancient lake that would validate Ryan and Pitman’s theory.

Pitman and Ryan estimated that the shoreline of the flooded lake today would lay at a depth of about 155 meters (510 feet) below the surface of the sea. Ballard and his team of experts zigzagged back and forth across the area, pinpointing the region of this ancient shoreline using the ship’s echo sounder and global positioning system (GPS) navigation. The first day’s results were inconclusive.

The second day out, says Ballard, “We hit a home run.”

Pointing at a sonar display on the ship’s computer monitor, Ballard painted a picture of the Black Sea floor. As the sonar image of the sea floor scrolled by, he described the flat plain in view, extending outward from the present coastline to a distance of about 20 nautical miles (37 kilometers). As the image continued to scroll, the curve of a coastline became apparent.

Ballard also theorizes that a river fed the lake. If so, the place would have been an ideal location for human settlement.

The archaeological evidence of Neolithic settlement on land, combined with underwater evidence of an ancient river and lake system, suggests that this area in Sinop could have been inhabited by people who were forced to move out by a great flood.

The only way to prove it is to bring the ROVs down and take a look.

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