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Old 05-27-2008, 08:25 PM
XT XT is offline
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Why does 'every' culture have a flood myth?

Was watching a show on Discovery talking about the 'fact' that 'every' culture from the ancient world that we know of has some kind of flood myth. They were speculating that this may be legends handed down from the time the Black Sea was flooded out...about 8000 years ago.

It got me wondering a few things. First off...DOES every culture from the ancient world have some kind of flood myth? If not all, do most of them? Some? A few? What is the number of ancient peoples who have such a myth.

Secondly...what could it mean? Simply that floods have a large hold on us even today? Or could it be that some traditions were horrible enough that they were handed down orally for generations, gradually becoming myth? It's a powerful idea (to me at least)...and one that is probably impossible to prove (thus it's probably outside the realm of science and pure speculation...thus the forum I put this in).

Lastly...has any major archaeological work been done in and under the Black Sea region? If so...have there been any results? I seem to recall that Ballard launched an expedition there but I don't remember any results. Has anyone else been looking in the region...and if so, have there been any results?

(I know there have been similar debates on this...I may have started one myself in fact. I'd like to have folks thoughts on this anyway as it's a subject that interests me. From a full disclosure perspective: while I was born and raised a Catholic I haven't been a practicing one since my late teens and would rank myself as firmly agnostic ( ). I have zero belief in the Noah story, at least from a biblical perspective...but I DO think that there is a chance that the story itself has a basis in truth, being perhaps a legend from the survivors of a flood in either the Black Sea or perhaps the Persian Gulf...or maybe pieces of many legends from various catastrophic floods that have periodically occurred through pre-history and sort of mashed together.)

-XT
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:32 PM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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I dunno about EVERY culture, but certainly many of the near-east and middle eastern cultures did. And we know (from archaeological and geological evidence) that there were periods of considerable flooding in Mesopotamia. Thus, it's not surprising that stories/myths about flooding would arise in Mesopotamia or Babylonia and spread thence to other cultures. Stories travelled and were traded, especially stories about great heroes or gods.
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:34 PM
Lightnin' Lightnin' is offline
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Don't forget- back then, "The Entire World" consisted of, at most, a day or two's travel away from your home. If everything around you flooded, clearly the entire world had flooded.
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:38 PM
Two and a Half Inches of Fun Two and a Half Inches of Fun is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xtisme
It got me wondering a few things. First off...DOES every culture from the ancient world have some kind of flood myth? If not all, do most of them? Some? A few? What is the number of ancient peoples who have such a myth.
I am not aware of an Egyptian flood myth. Or a Roman flood myth (I do not know if the Romans ever believed the Greek flood myths). Did the Carthagians have a flood story? Or the Canaanites? I do not think we know. And that is a problem with a lot of ancient cultures. We do not know their beliefs.

Last edited by Two and a Half Inches of Fun; 05-27-2008 at 08:42 PM..
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:47 PM
XT XT is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Two and a Half Inches of Fun
I am not aware of an Egyptian flood myth. Or a Roman flood myth (I do not know if the Romans ever believed the Greek flood myths). Did the Carthagians have flood story? Or the Canaanites? I do not think we know. And that is a problem with a lot of ancient cultures. We do not know their beliefs.
The Greeks had a flood myth...so, most likely the Romans did to since much of their culture came by way of the Greeks. What basis do you use to state the Romans never believed it?

As for the Carthaginians, weren't they founded by the Phoenicians? And THEY had a flood myth. It wouldn't be unreasonable to extrapolate that the Carthaginians also had a similar myth.

The Egyptians had a flood myth that had to do (from memory) with the god RA. It certainly wasn't like the biblical myth (or that of some other Mediterranean peoples), but it certainly had a flood in it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lightnin'
Don't forget- back then, "The Entire World" consisted of, at most, a day or two's travel away from your home. If everything around you flooded, clearly the entire world had flooded.
Yes, exactly. There is zero evidence of a global flood in human pre-history...but to a people living in the Black Sea, say, or in what is now the Persian Gulf or the English Channel the 'world' consisted of their homes, fields and settlements.

-XT
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:49 PM
Odesio Odesio is online now
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I'm unsure if every ancient civilization had a flood myth. Weren't most of the cities of ancient civilizations built near a river, lake, ocean, or some other source of water? I would expect that almost all of them must have experienced a flood at one point or another.

Marc
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:53 PM
Two and a Half Inches of Fun Two and a Half Inches of Fun is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lightnin'
Don't forget- back then, "The Entire World" consisted of, at most, a day or two's travel away from your home. If everything around you flooded, clearly the entire world had flooded.
I do not think there was ever a culture that believed the entire world was a day or two's travel.
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Old 05-27-2008, 09:02 PM
ElvisL1ves ElvisL1ves is offline
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Egypt didn't need a flood myth. They had a flood reality, every year.
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Old 05-27-2008, 09:05 PM
Two and a Half Inches of Fun Two and a Half Inches of Fun is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xtisme
The Greeks had a flood myth...so, most likely the Romans did to since much of their culture came by way of the Greeks. What basis do you use to state the Romans never believed it?
I said I don't know if they ever believed it.

Quote:
As for the Carthaginians, weren't they founded by the Phoenicians? And THEY had a flood myth. It wouldn't be unreasonable to extrapolate that the Carthaginians also had a similar myth.
But the Carthaginian culture was a highly localized version of the Phoenician culture. Did they bring the flood with them?

Quote:
The Egyptians had a flood myth that had to do (from memory) with the god RA. It certainly wasn't like the biblical myth (or that of some other Mediterranean peoples), but it certainly had a flood in it.
And the Norse have a flood myth, too. But it is so dissimilar as to not be relevant. Does any story that involves a flood count?
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Old 05-27-2008, 09:08 PM
MichaelQReilly MichaelQReilly is offline
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Well, the whole world pretty much did flood at the end of the last ice age (in the sense of the coastlines where a lot of people probably lived). Civilization itself is not nearly that old, but I don' think its implausible that the very early civilizations retained some sort of mythical remembrance of that event passed down from their late paleolithic ancestors.

Last edited by MichaelQReilly; 05-27-2008 at 09:09 PM..
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Old 05-27-2008, 09:08 PM
Der Trihs Der Trihs is offline
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I expect ancient cultures had myths involving floods for the same reason they had myths involving wars; they had experience with such things, and based their myths on them.

Last edited by Der Trihs; 05-27-2008 at 09:08 PM..
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Old 05-27-2008, 09:25 PM
Maastricht Maastricht is offline
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Stephen Jay Gould once wrote an article about the geological evidence for a massive flood in North America. IIRC that flood occurred when an ice dam broke and part of the Great Lakes emptied into some valley. If any native people had been around at the time (I'm not sure about the era this happened) they might have created a myth too.
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Old 05-28-2008, 02:41 AM
Mosier Mosier is online now
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A few civlizations have flood myths that are similar to each other. From what I understand, these civlizations were notably connected through trade, conquest, and settlement. Why couldn't it just be ONE original flood myth that got borrowed by the Jews and the Greeks and the Phoenecians and Babylonians?
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Old 05-28-2008, 04:34 AM
Simplicio Simplicio is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mosier
A few civlizations have flood myths that are similar to each other. From what I understand, these civlizations were notably connected through trade, conquest, and settlement. Why couldn't it just be ONE original flood myth that got borrowed by the Jews and the Greeks and the Phoenecians and Babylonians?
Wikipedia has a pretty comprehensive list of cultures with flood myths, and they include both New World and Old World civilizations, so unless the original myth goes really far back, its unlikely they all came from a common origin or event.

The article also include what I think is probably the most likely explanation for the widespread myths, every culture was probably aware that the fossils of sea animals could be found in areas that were far from the coast lines of their day. After finding a few horseshoe crap fossils on top of a mountain, or even a whale skeleton in a fresh water lake, a giant flood probably seemed a much more obvious explanation then the present day theory of plate tetonics.

Last edited by Simplicio; 05-28-2008 at 04:35 AM..
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Old 05-28-2008, 04:53 AM
sandra_nz sandra_nz is offline
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Stupid question, but what is implied by the term 'flood myth'?

I think of Noah's arc (i.e. someone having to build a vessel to contain the earth's animals whilst the entire earth was flooded) but I'm guessing you are all meaning just a myth of a great flood at some time in our past?
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Old 05-28-2008, 05:54 AM
even sven even sven is online now
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All civilizations are built near fresh water. Usually this is a river. Rivers flood.
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Old 05-28-2008, 06:07 AM
The Them The Them is offline
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In 1993, many of us witnessed a flood that was pretty amazing; a "500 year flood" it got called. So, if that's a "500 year" event, what's a "10,000 year" event look like? Pretty impressive, I'd imagine.
People need to live near a source for freshwater, which more often than not means a river. Ergo, given enough time, most people (here, I mean "cultures") will have memories of some gawdawful thing where everything to the horizon and beyond was going under. Throw all that in the same blender as urban legends and voila!
There's also the whole ice caps melting 11,000 years ago thing. Be hard NOT to notice when the sea level goes up 400 feet...*

*All the preceding are thoughts of my own. I back them up with neither data nor credentials in any field.
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Old 05-28-2008, 06:10 AM
Ludovic Ludovic is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simplicio
After finding a few horseshoe crap fossils on top of a mountain
What do coproliths prove anyway?
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Old 05-28-2008, 07:23 AM
Manda JO Manda JO is offline
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Look at the Mississippi flood in 1927: 27,000 square miles were flooded. In this day and age, we keep our rivers so tightly controlled with levees and dams, it's easy for forget that rivers used to be living things, moving their beds and bursting their banks erratically. I don't think you'd have to go back to the Black Sea to find a memory of an awe-inspiring flood for any group.
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Old 05-28-2008, 08:47 AM
Ike Witt Ike Witt is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by even sven
All civilizations are built near fresh water. Usually this is a river. Rivers flood.
I think that this is pretty much the answer. Flood myths are common because flooding is common.
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Old 05-28-2008, 09:15 AM
XT XT is offline
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Sure....but how often do floods wipe out an entire settlement? Can't be all THAT often, not to the point where the settlement is permanently abandoned. I would think that kind of catastrophe would have more impact on the survivors and be something that was handed down in an oral tradition. It would have meaning and impact on people (and thus continue to be told) because floods happen and people can grasp what they mean...and are able to extrapolate what a really big flood would do and be like (though looking at the Noah myth they can't alway extrapolate very accurately ).

-XT
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Old 05-28-2008, 10:37 AM
Manda JO Manda JO is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xtisme
Sure....but how often do floods wipe out an entire settlement? Can't be all THAT often, not to the point where the settlement is permanently abandoned. I would think that kind of catastrophe would have more impact on the survivors and be something that was handed down in an oral tradition. It would have meaning and impact on people (and thus continue to be told) because floods happen and people can grasp what they mean...and are able to extrapolate what a really big flood would do and be like (though looking at the Noah myth they can't alway extrapolate very accurately ).

-XT

If the settlement is within a dozen miles of a major river, I'd say every couple of hundred years at least. And the settlers get scattered to all the other settlements, carrying stories of the devestation. Look at the area flooded in 1927--14% of Arkansas was underwater. The Mississippi was 60 miles wide as far north as Memphis. It seems more likely that a memory of a flood like that would linger 300 years than that a memory of the Black Sea has lingered for 12,000.
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Old 05-28-2008, 11:22 AM
MrDibble MrDibble is offline
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I must admit I know of no Khoisan or Bantu flood myth, but I haven't really researched it intensively.
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Old 05-28-2008, 11:28 AM
XT XT is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manda JO
It seems more likely that a memory of a flood like that would linger 300 years than that a memory of the Black Sea has lingered for 12,000.
IIRC the Black Sea flooded out sometime between 5500-6000 BC. That's not 12,000 years. Seems plausible to me that if a memory of a big flood could kick around for 300 years then a truly catastrophic flood like that must have been would be told for a couple thousand years before recorded civilization started. How long did the story of Troy hang out before it was finally written down?

-XT
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Old 05-28-2008, 12:07 PM
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I must admit I know of no Khoisan or Bantu flood myth, but I haven't really researched it intensively.
"Once, many years ago, we had enough water."
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Old 05-28-2008, 12:28 PM
Sunrazor Sunrazor is offline
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I watched the same documentary -- it came in here on History Channel -- and I was of the distinct impression that the theory being advanced was that the flooding of what is now the Dead Sea is, in fact, the genesis of the flood myth. I don't remember the narrator saying that every culture has had a flood myth, only that the flood myth was common among the ancient peoples, and that flooding on a massive scale was common in that area at one time.

Among Native Indian tribes, flood is a common event in tribal myths, although usually not a personified actor but generally caused by a god. Having lived most of my life in the South Platte River Valley, I can attest to the awesome nature of a flood. It is inexorable and irresistible. I remember standing on the banks of the South Platte as the water rose and watching the river go by as if it were an endless animal, ignorant of my existence, indifferent to everything around it. Later, as I watched it slowly devour my wife's family's cropland, I felt a fearful helplessness that I've never experienced before or since. That kind of experience lends itself to a tribe's mythmaking, I would think.
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Old 05-28-2008, 02:19 PM
Cervaise Cervaise is offline
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Originally Posted by Maastricht
Stephen Jay Gould once wrote an article about the geological evidence for a massive flood in North America. IIRC that flood occurred when an ice dam broke and part of the Great Lakes emptied into some valley. If any native people had been around at the time (I'm not sure about the era this happened) they might have created a myth too.
Don't know about the Great Lakes, but the Lake Missoula Floods were pretty major, and, what's more, repeated many times over thousands of years.
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Old 05-28-2008, 03:09 PM
Manda JO Manda JO is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xtisme
IIRC the Black Sea flooded out sometime between 5500-6000 BC. That's not 12,000 years. Seems plausible to me that if a memory of a big flood could kick around for 300 years then a truly catastrophic flood like that must have been would be told for a couple thousand years before recorded civilization started. How long did the story of Troy hang out before it was finally written down?

-XT
According to Wiki, it was 7000 years ago, so it certainly didn't effect native American myths. In any case, I am not sure how huge a flood has to be before it gets to "really fucking huge" and any additional flooding is meaningless: if you were on the ground, would a flood that covered 60,000 square miles over a year seem of a different magnitude from a flood that covered 30,000 square miles in few weeks? I suspect there have been many floods in the "fucking huge" catagory, and the ones that we can retroactivly label as the biggest may not have been that much more memorable.

One thing that makes me especially dubious about the Black Sea thing is that in that case, rather uniquely, the flood waters never went back down. If that incident were the kernal of all the flood stories in the region, you'd expect them to have that idea in them--that the new seas had new shores--but I don't think I've ever seen that in a flood myth. It's always "water goes up, water goes down".
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Old 05-28-2008, 03:21 PM
XT XT is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manda JO
According to Wiki, it was 7000 years ago, so it certainly didn't effect native American myths.
Well, there is no way to definitively know that. Certainly there were no mass migrations to America at that time...but there are new theories as to how people got to America in the first place, and it's at least theoretically possible there was some interaction. (ok....probably not...but you never know. One thing they have found is that man moved around a lot more than was previously thought....and found lots of ingenious ways to move to places thought inaccessible.)


Quote:
Originally Posted by Manda JO
In any case, I am not sure how huge a flood has to be before it gets to "really fucking huge" and any additional flooding is meaningless: if you were on the ground, would a flood that covered 60,000 square miles over a year seem of a different magnitude from a flood that covered 30,000 square miles in few weeks? I suspect there have been many floods in the "fucking huge" catagory, and the ones that we can retroactivly label as the biggest may not have been that much more memorable.
If it sweeps away your entire settlement and maybe your neighbors settlement as well then I think it's big enough to be remembered. If it sweeps away, permanently, your entire 'world'....well, that's something else again. And I think the Black Sea flooding (if it even happened) would constitute a big enough disaster that it would be remembered and the story of which would be retold and spread (and in the spreading change).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Manda JO
One thing that makes me especially dubious about the Black Sea thing is that in that case, rather uniquely, the flood waters never went back down. If that incident were the kernal of all the flood stories in the region, you'd expect them to have that idea in them--that the new seas had new shores--but I don't think I've ever seen that in a flood myth. It's always "water goes up, water goes down".
Well, oral stories are....stories. So, they are bound to change in the retelling. Like the story about Troy, there only has to be a kernel of truth around which myths form. I think the very thing that makes you skeptical is what makes it believable to me....it was such a unique and terrifying event that it would be remarkable if there was no memory of it at all passed down to future generations. It's just too good a story to not tell.

-XT
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Old 05-28-2008, 04:59 PM
Manda JO Manda JO is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xtisme

If it sweeps away your entire settlement and maybe your neighbors settlement as well then I think it's big enough to be remembered. If it sweeps away, permanently, your entire 'world'....well, that's something else again. And I think the Black Sea flooding (if it even happened) would constitute a big enough disaster that it would be remembered and the story of which would be retold and spread (and in the spreading change).




Well, oral stories are....stories. So, they are bound to change in the retelling. Like the story about Troy, there only has to be a kernel of truth around which myths form. I think the very thing that makes you skeptical is what makes it believable to me....it was such a unique and terrifying event that it would be remarkable if there was no memory of it at all passed down to future generations. It's just too good a story to not tell.

-XT
Why would a flood the size of the Black Sea seem to sweep away your entire world but the Mississippi flood only seem to sweep away your settlement? To a family near ground zero, I think they'd both seem huge beyond imagination. The Black Sea didn't so much flood as creep up steadily for a year or so, near as I can tell: a weird event, but in many ways less terrifying and memorable than the river flooding in just a few weeks.

If you want to connect a myth to a certain specific event, I think you need a tie to some element of the event that is unique to that event. None of the flood myths seem to have anything that attaches them specifically to the Black Sea flood--in fact, the ones I am familiar with all talk about a whole lot of rain--the Black Sea flood would also have been unique in that it may not have been accompanied by heavy rains.
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Old 05-28-2008, 05:12 PM
XT XT is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manda JO
Why would a flood the size of the Black Sea seem to sweep away your entire world but the Mississippi flood only seem to sweep away your settlement? To a family near ground zero, I think they'd both seem huge beyond imagination. The Black Sea didn't so much flood as creep up steadily for a year or so, near as I can tell: a weird event, but in many ways less terrifying and memorable than the river flooding in just a few weeks.
Depends on who you believe whether the Black Sea flooded massively or crept steadily...I've seen both theories. Obviously I'm basing my own conjecture on the massive flooding theory where essentially an earthen dam burst and let in several hundred feet of sea in a short period of time.

As to why it would be different, I'd say first off because unlike a flood on the Mississippi where eventually the waters would recede and at least the land would be back, here you would have something that would in a very real sense reshape the world...permanently. Secondly I presume (again, pure conjecture) that there were multiple settlements...perhaps even a proto-civilization...around the old Black Sea lake area...which would have all been swept away essentially over night. I would think this would have a much greater impact than the flooding of the Mississippi....traumatic as that would have been to the inhabitants.

I freely concede that MMV and that this is pure conjecture on my part. We are unlikely to ever know.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Manda JO
If you want to connect a myth to a certain specific event, I think you need a tie to some element of the event that is unique to that event. None of the flood myths seem to have anything that attaches them specifically to the Black Sea flood--in fact, the ones I am familiar with all talk about a whole lot of rain--the Black Sea flood would also have been unique in that it may not have been accompanied by heavy rains.
Well, we don't know the events leading up to the (supposed) collapse of the dam holding back the sea...nor do we know what other events through time may have contributed to the myth(s) of different peoples. The way oral stories propagate through time and distance would pretty much assure that much of the original story would be garbled, embellished (perhaps with local events), or otherwise be changed. Popular oral stories would of course become local favorites (such as the stories that lead to the biblical Noah account which can be traced back to several other regional cultures).

I don't think rain is a show stopper to be honest. One can speculate that it was raining heavily prior to the collapse of the dam holding back the sea (and perhaps it was the rain that caused the final erosion that lead to the collapse) for instance. Or perhaps rain figured into another flood, and the events were folded together in the way that oral stories take on aspects of the local events and/or cultures they pass through.

-XT
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Old 05-28-2008, 05:25 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Manda JO

One thing that makes me especially dubious about the Black Sea thing is that in that case, rather uniquely, the flood waters never went back down. If that incident were the kernel of all the flood stories in the region, you'd expect them to have that idea in them--that the new seas had new shores--but I don't think I've ever seen that in a flood myth. It's always "water goes up, water goes down".
And you could add that the Biblical flood story, at least, specifies a deluge as the mechanism, rather than a sudden inflow of surface water.

Still, it seems to me quite possible that the Black Sea event was the kernel for the various flood legends in the region. It's even possible that Noah is based on a real person, or a group of people, who suspected a flood was coming and built boats. I'm not sure how far it's possible to go with this; if these "Noahs" explored the region to their southwest and discovered that a vast sea of saltwater existed a thousand feet above their homes, would they have been able to understand the implications?

When discussing isolated cultures today it usually seems a safer bet not to underestimate what they understand about the world, at least on a practical level.

Last edited by Spectre of Pithecanthropus; 05-28-2008 at 05:27 PM..
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  #33  
Old 05-28-2008, 06:23 PM
Maastricht Maastricht is offline
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Originally Posted by Cervaise
Don't know about the Great Lakes, but the Lake Missoula Floods were pretty major, and, what's more, repeated many times over thousands of years.
Yes, that was it, thanks. Does anyone know if there were people living in that area, around 15.000 BC?
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Old 05-28-2008, 06:41 PM
XT XT is offline
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IIRC, the oldest remains in North America are something like 11k-13k...so probably no one was living there around 15k. At least no remains I'm aware of have been found that old.

-XT
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Old 05-28-2008, 07:03 PM
DanBlather DanBlather is offline
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Originally Posted by Two and a Half Inches of Fun
I do not think there was ever a culture that believed the entire world was a day or two's travel.
Texans?
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  #36  
Old 05-29-2008, 03:24 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by even sven
All civilizations are built near fresh water. Usually this is a river. Rivers flood.
Furthermore, that nice, level, moist, silty soil next to the river is great for growing crops. It only acquired the name 'floodplain' later.
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