National Geographic : 2001 May
a freshwater lake-until about 10,000 years ago, when depressions made by the weight of the retreating Eurasian ice sheet trapped the water and diverted it westward. For a time the lake shrank, even as world sea levels rose, until finally it lay some 500 feet below the Mediter ranean, separated only by a thin isthmus. If a cataclysmic breach of that barrier did in fact take place, the Black Sea would have risen six inches a day, Pitman calculated. Any people living along the north shore, which borders the flat Eurasian steppes, would have been forced back as much as a mile a day; those along the Turkish coast could have found refuge in the nearby mountains. But the speed of the flooding would have left little time to dismantle homes and organize evacuation; the trappings of those lives must have remained intact beneath the sea-time capsules much like those buried beneath volcanic ash. Could we put Ryan and Pitman's theory to the test? The coastal waters around Sinop, largely free of siltation, offered a perfect place to search for evidence of an ancient freshwater beach. I couldn't resist: We would include flood research in the Black Sea Project. We would attempt to find the beach as well as sunken ships. We would extend the Black Sea story from its Neolithic genesis to modern times. The Black Sea Project actually began back in the summer of 1996. Our team of scholars, students, Turkish colleagues, and visitors often hovered close to 30, many of them bunched in dormitory conditions in Sinop's Hotel 57. The hotel, a block from the harbor in the shadow of a medieval stone tower, was in a cramped warren of shops and restaurants savory with lamb kebab, grilled mackerel, and morning bread from wood-burning ovens. Close by was a steamy, double-domed hamam, or Turkish bathhouse, that had been in constant use for some 500 years. During the first two summers the land team made systematic walking surveys of the Sinop Peninsula, identifying hundreds of archaeolog ical sites from Neolithic to Byzantine. In 1998 came the water team under David Mindell, a professor from MIT, whose mission was to find sonar targets in the surrounding seas. This was innovative and holistic archaeol ogy, with both land and water teams using similar transect methods to plot artifacts. We would have the record of Sinop and its seas plotted from mountaintop to ocean bottom. "This is a living archaeological site," Fred Hiebert told me when I met with him and Owen Doonan, leader of the land team, in the summer of 1999. The team had been walking three-foot strips across the landscape, in the process picking up more than 4,000 sherds of pottery from Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman villages. "We've found evidence of 3,000 to 4,000 years of settlement and vibrant trade," Hiebert said. But my first task that summer was to find the ancient beach, which Ryan and Pitman said would be 500 feet below the surface of the sea. We had leased and outfitted local fishing boats for a series of day trips-boats that would be lost to us come September and the running of The ancient port of Sinop (left) was col onized by Greeks from Miletus, which lay on today's Turk ish Mediterranean coast. In turn, the colonists ventured out to establish trading posts around the Black Sea. Turk ish tourists sun at Sinop's Karakum beach (right), whose black volcanic sand was mixed with clay to make amphorae.