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Climate History: Exploring Climate Events and Human Development
The Past 10,000 years: Glacial Retreat, Agriculture and Civilization
Image of Modern day Black SeaAs glaciers and icecaps melted at the end of the last Ice Age, sea levels rose and dramatically changed the world, perhaps nowhere more dramatically than in what is now the Black Sea, where, according to some researchers, a flood 7600 years ago filled the basin.

Evidence for the flood was confirmed in 1996 when Columbia University marine geologists William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman proposed a solution to the mystery that archeologists and paleoclimatologists have wrestled with since the early 1800s with the story of the deluge that appears in the Book of Genesis was found to exist in other cultures not associated with the Judeo-Christian Bible such as the Epic of Gilgamesh (Ryan, et. al., 1997).

As sea levels rose, the waters of the Mediterranean began to flow into the basin that is now the Black Sea. According to the National Geographic,
"funneled through the narrow Bosporus, the water hit the Black Sea with 200 times the force of Niagara Falls. Each day the Black Sea rose about six inches (15 centimeters), and coastal farms were flooded." (See Ballard and the Black Sea).
Figure of Black Sea from RuddimanNot all researchers support the conclusions of Ryan and Pitman, however. In an article entitled "Persistent Holocene Outflow from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean Contradicts Noah's Flood Hypothesis" (Aksu, et. Al., 2002), researchers suggest a progressive reconnection between the two water bodies over the past 12,000 years, and that there was no catastrophic event, but rather ongoing inflow and outflow from the Black Sea Basin. Nevertheless, the controversy continues with explorer Robert Ballard discovering evidence of a flooded settlement 95 meters beneath the modern day sea level off the north coast of Turkey.

If a massive flood did occur, it may have played a role in the migration of people away from the region, possibly helping to spread the Indo-European languages-- from which Sanskrit and many European languages including English evolved-- to India and Europe. Linguists who study the origin of languages note that migrations of people from the eastern part of the Black Sea around 6,000 years ago include three eastern branches-- going toward Iran, India and Central Asia respectively-- and two western migrations-- the first going directly towards Greece while the second went around the Caspian Sea towards Europe where many Western languages emerged from. For more, see the article "The Early History of the Indo-European Languages" by Thomas V. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov
that appeared in Scientific American, March 1990.

Image showing spread of agriculture in EuropeIt was in the centuries following this period that major civilizations began to develop around irrigation systems that allowed agricultural cities to form in the semiarid regions of the Middle East in what Peter Drucker (1966) has called the "First Technological Revolution." According to Drucker, the domestication of water through irrigation led to formal writing and number systems as people began to systematically document history and commerce, and even the concept of individuality and citizenship evolved from this technological revolution. (See "The First Technological Revolution and Its Lessons", Technology and Culture, Spring 1966. First presented on December 29, 1965, as the presidential address to the Society for the History of Technology, San Francisco.)

Paleoclimatologist J.P. Steffensen in the January 7, 2002 issue of The New Yorker Magazine (Kolbert, 2002) comments on how paleoclimatic research may help provide perspective on the development of civilization: "Now you're able to put human evolution in a climatic framework. You can ask, Why didn't human beings make civilization fifty thousand years ago? You know that they had just as big brains as we have today. When you put it in a climatic framework, you can say, "Well, it was the ice age. And also this ice age was so climatically unstable that each time you had the beginning of a culture they had to move. Then comes the present interglacial-- ten thousand years of very stable climate. The perfect conditions for agriculture. If you look at it, it's amazing. Civilizations in Persia, in China, and in India start at the same time, maybe six thousand years ago. They all developed writing and they all developed religion and they all built cities, all at the same time, because the climate was stable. I think that if the climate would have been stable fifty thousand years ago it would have started then. But they had no chance."


Figures above from Ruddiman (2001) used by permission of W. H. Freeman & Co.
The top figure shows how water from the Mediterranean entered into the Black Sea. The lower figure shows the gradual spread of agriculture into Europe, North Africa and Asia during Holocene.


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