Dispatch 9: The Final Dredge

July 21, 1999

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Ballard and crew spent the last few days of the Black Sea expedition dredging samples from various depths at the site believed to be an ancient lake.

Each dredge yielded different samples; some came up empty, some came covered with a finely textured grey mud; and some came loaded with sea shells.

Photo of buckets of shells The first question one must ask of the shells is whether they are freshwater or saltwater. If the answer is freshwater—and we should soon know—then chances are much stronger that they came from a lake bed. The next question: How old are they?

Perfectly preserved in the deep layers of the Black Sea, where no oxygen exists to decompose them, these shells could have been made by living creatures over 7,000 years ago. Or they could have been made a few years ago. Only testing can tell. The shells and all other samples will be dated at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Photo of National Geographic explorer Robert Ballard If the shells are freshwater and date to before 5600 B.C., the evidence will be clear. The expedition will have proved that the Black Sea flooded what was once a vast freshwater lake.

Ballard is a believer. He says the 1999 expedition is “a complete success. We were able to document the existence of an ancient shoreline exactly where Ryan and Pitman said it would be.”

The expedition will continue in the summer of 2000, with Ballard bringing the submersible JASON along to look for signs of human habitation in the canyons and valleys of the Black Sea floor.

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