The ancient lore of many cultures includes the story of a lost civilization—a sophisticated society suddenly buried beneath the sea. The biblical story of Noah and the Greek legend of Atlantis may be the best known, but similar stories emerge from the oral traditions of India, Sri Lanka, Spain, and Egypt, for example.
The persistence, parallelism, and pervasiveness of these accounts hint at a possible connection to some real event(s). And while conclusive evidence may not be accessible, a research paper published in the December 2010 issue of Current Anthropology indirectly lends a new level of scientific credence to the ancient story.1 It provides some impressive corroboration of what we read in the first eleven chapters of Genesis.
That paper, by University of Birmingham archeologist Jeffrey Rose, reports on sixty previously unknown archeological sites along the shores of the Persian Gulf, each determined at least 7,500 years old, and possibly much older. As Rose describes them, “[T]hese settlements boast well-built permanent stone houses, longdistance trade networks, elaborately decorated pottery, domesticated animals, and even evidence for one of the oldest boats in the world.”2
Earlier research (2003-2006) by archeologist Hans-Peter Uerpmann of the University of Tubingen (Germany) had already detected remnants of three villages at the base of Jebel Faya,3 a limestone mountain in the United Arab Emirates, also along the Gulf. This finding led to further research by Uerpmann and his team, published in the January 28, 2011 issue of Science. Using the optical luminescence dating technique (which still requires refinement and calibration), they determined the age of these settlements to be somewhere between a few tens of thousands of years and 143, 000 years old. Even after likely calibration corrections bring these numbers down, these villages represent the most ancient remnants of human society ever discovered.4
Rose points out in his paper that during the late Pleistocene era (150,000 to 12,000 years ago), reduced sea levels would have periodically exposed an area of land called the “Gulf Oasis.” Specifically, the Persian Gulf sometimes receded so far as to expose a landmass at least as large as Great Britain. Rose goes on to explain that this landmass would have been well watered by four large rivers flowing in that era: the Tigris, Euphrates, Karun, and Wadi Batin. Fresh water springs from subterranean aquifers flowing beneath the Arabian subcontinent would have added their water to the region. Such an abundant, well-distributed fresh water supply along with the region’s warm weather could easily have supported a lush agricultural enterprise.
On this basis Rose proposes that during the latter part of the last ice age, a thriving civilization might have existed on the land that now sits under the Persian Gulf. As sea levels rose and water flowed in through the Strait of Hormuz to fill up the Persian Gulf (see Figure 1), people would have fled the Gulf Oasis and formed a succession of settlements along the Persian Gulf ’s rising shoreline. To build a more solidly substantiated case for his theory, Rose calls for underwater exploration in the Persian Gulf to search for tools, buildings, and human fossil remains. However, Rose also acknowledges that the water’s rushing in to form and expand the Persian Gulf may well have destroyed the very evidence he needs to solidify his case—and the same acknowledgment must be made concerning the search for evidence of the great flood of Noah’s day.
Figure 1: Persian Gulf Region
Much of what is now the Persian Gulf and Red Sea was dry during the latter part of the last ice age. The archeological site, Jebel Faya, is located about a hundred miles south of the Strait of Hormuz. Archeologist Jeffrey Rose found the remains of sixty ancient villages all along the Persian Gulf ’s present shoreline.
Rose’s theory, while it may well connect with the biblical Flood account, more specifically addresses another long-standing skeptical challenge to the veracity of Scripture. Critics often mock the Bible’s description of the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2 claims that the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates Rivers all meet together in Eden.5 This account has strained credulity given that the Pishon and Gihon—during the close of the last ice age—flowed from the mountains of central Arabia (Havilah) and southwest Arabia (Cush), respectively, while the Tigris and Euphrates flowed, as they do today, from the mountains of Ararat in Armenia and Turkey (see Figure 1), and nowhere on Earth would the four come together today.
All four rivers do flow into different parts of the Persian Gulf, however. And it now appears the four rivers would have converged in what Rose identifies as the Gulf Oasis, an area also watered by springs welling up from subterranean aquifers. In describing Eden, Genesis 2:6 says,“[S]treams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.” The existence of the Gulf Oasis lends credence to the biblical
description of these features of the Garden of Eden.
Uerpmann’s team adds the footnote that certain geographical features of the ancient era, such as the presence of rivers flowing through southern Arabia coupled with a smaller Red Sea, might have greatly facilitated human migration out of Africa into the Oasis. Or, as they also point out, the same geography could have promoted migration in the opposite direction.6
Rose goes on to point out that the existence of the Gulf Oasis is consistent with the biblical account of Noah’s flood. The combination of 1) a lengthy torrential rain storm, 2) a tectonic event to burst open subterranean aquifers*, 3) a surge of Indian Ocean water through the Strait of Hormuz, and 4) a heat wave to generate a sudden snowmelt in the surrounding mountains certainly would have caused a devastating flood. It would have been sufficient to wipe out all inhabitants (other than those aboard Noah’s ark) in the Gulf Oasis region, the Mesopotamian Plain, and a large area surrounding Mesopotamia, including what is now the Persian Gulf. Given that the world’s population was concentrated in this area and had not yet spread beyond (as the Genesis 11 indicates) an event of this magnitude agrees with everything Genesis 6–9 tells us about Noah’s flood.8 Rose’s study provides an example of how scientific advance, in this case archeological research, enhances our confidence in the accuracy and reliability of God’s Word. It can be trusted in all respects to reveal truth to all generations of humanity, without exception. And that includes the scientifically sophisticated people of the 21st century.
*Genesis 7:11 identifies “springs of the great deep” as one source of the flood waters.