Azerbaijan: Land of Fire and Flood Ancient Mariners and a Deluged Landscape
By Ronnie Gallagher
Other articles by Ronnie Gallagher
Sir William Mathew Flinders Challenge
Sir William Mathew Flinders Petrie observed in the 1920’s that there were definite connections between ancient Egypt and southern Russia, more particularly with the Caucasus.
In 1924 he wrote: “A fundamental change has come over Egyptian archaeology with the discovery of the earliest civilization yet known, which appears to be akin to the Solutrean. The remote district of Badari has now entered into the archaeological literature as the seat on the Badarian culture, of a high type in its pottery and ability to glaze, and well advances in figure working. Moreover, this is clearly the basis of all the following prehistoric civilization of Egypt; it forms part of the continuity of civilization in that land. If, as appears, this is derived from the same stock as the Solutrean culture of Europe, it must have travelled down from the Caucasus region, for the Solutrean work passed north of the Black Sea into Austria Poland, and Northern France without developing on the Mediterranean. Hence the groundwork of the Egyptian civilization –planted on an African people – is from the Caucasus; with it presumably, arrived a strong stock of people who brought it , as a mere trade influence could not be supposed to travel so far with such fundamental effect on most arts.” ‘Ancient Egypt’, December 1924
Exploring the ancestral origins theory further Flinders Petrie, in consultation with a Canadian Scientist – Professor Reginald Fessenden, analyzed the Egyptian Book of the Dead to determine its possible geographical origins. In his paper on ‘The Origins of the Book of the Dead’, he notes that the Egyptian mythological landscape of correlates direct with the geography of the Caucasus as described by Ptolemy. Given such remarkable literary and philological evidence Petrie concluded
“It appears, then, that the cultural connections of the earliest Egyptians, as well as the physical descriptions in their mythology, point to the Caucasus region. When, further, we find there the names of the principal places of the mythology in their relative positions, it gives strong grounds for regarding that region as the homeland of the earliest civilization of the Egyptians”. (Ancient Egypt, June 1926).
Subsequent archaeological investigation by Dr. Margaret Murray, a colleague of Flinders Petrie, demonstrated cultural similarities between the regions that included: a) The Egyptian three headed god ‘Ash’, whose heads include a lion, vulture and a snake having an identical counterpart in a Scythian deity; b) seated XIIth dynasty female figurines are similar to those found in the Tripolye culture found in Southern Russia on the Dneiper, as are : c), doll like ‘soul houses’ found as grave goods. Antiquity 15. 384 –386. Connections Between Egypt and Russia. (Gloucester, 1941)
Unfortunately due to the Bolshevik Revolution and the closure of Russian territories, it became impossible for western scientists to investigate Caucasian links with pre-dynastic Egypt. But in addition to this, with the rise of Nazism, it further became politically incorrect to consider a superior people or race invading the Nile Valley. These realities and an inherent bias in the archaeological community against Petrie’s theory all militated against scientific consideration of ancestral Caucasian connections.
It seems then that the archaeological community simply forgave Sir William’s eccentricity and just ignored his conviction of the probability of Egyptian ancestral origins in the Caucasus. Margaret Murray however was an exception and stated: ‘Archaeological evidence in support of that claim is, however, coming in by slow degrees, and it seems probable that in time the evidence will prove that the founder of the science of Archaeology was right in his conjecture’. However, since the first half of the last century it seems that no serious studies were carried out to look for predynastic cultural connections.
Perhaps if earth scientists can confirm Eurasia was indeed flooded during and at the end of the last Ice Age, thereby potentially facilitating millennia long maritime connections between Transcaucasia and the Mediterranean, then this might kindle academic interest into actively seeking ancient cultural links between the two regions. If found, then this would surely exonerate Flinders Petrie’s eccentricity and confirm his conjecture.
Azerbaijan has long been known as the Land of Fire, but
few realize that it has actually been subjected to massive floods in
the past so creating a geography that was very different from what we
see today. With the Caspian Sea level at 28m below average sea
level, (b.s.l.) it is almost impossible to imagine an upper
elevation of around 225m above sea level (a.s.l.) and a massive
inland sea. And yet this is what strandline evidence reveals. This
great flood most likely happened some 18ka to 16ka BP at the end of
the Ice Age during deglaciation and cannot be explained by glacial
melt water alone.
Geologists are aware of raised terraces in excess of
100m, though these have been attributed to tectonic or mountain
building uplift of the Caucasus. Personal investigation however
suggests that this is incorrect, and that several flooding factors
had to be involved in the creation of the drowned landscape features.
Understanding Azerbaijan’s flood events has been a
fascinating and complex study and may even provide explanations for
legendary prehistoric flood stories in the Ponto Caspian region. A
huge inland sea and associated waterways may also provide clues to
the solution of other enigmas such as the large language diversity
across the Caucasus. There would also be many more implications as a
large body of water would have greatly affected regional climates,
regional biogeography and human demographics. It also suggests that
intercontinental navigation from the Aral Sea to the Marmara Sea /
(almost the Aegean Sea) was possible for millennia in the late
Pleistocene. If so, flooding and the eventual disappearance of the
waterways will have influenced ancient human
life and helped shape prehistory.
Intriguingly, the flooded landscape may even be recorded, both
directly and indirectly in the rock art of Gobustan.
Interest in Caspian Sea levels began with a visit to
Gobustan in April 2000 and viewing the fascinating Stone Age rock art
which accurately details the life and times of these ancient
inhabitants. Amongst the petroglyphs were a number of boats dating
back some 8000 to 9000 years BP showing multiple oarsmen. These
hinted at higher sea levels and the possibility of long distance
navigation. Indeed, the boat petroglyphs attracted the attention of
Thor Heyerdahl, who had a lifelong passion for exploring mankind’s
ancient migrations. Unfortunately like other archaeologists and
scientists he was at a loss to understand the importance of the
vessels particularly as the Caspian Sea is understood to be last
connected to the Black Sea some 11,000 years ago. With the Caspian
Sea some 4.5 km distant from Gobustan rock art reserve and textbooks
informing that over the past 10,000 years the Caspian did not reach
any higher than minus 20 m b.s.l., something was not right: there had
to be missing pieces to the puzzle. Indeed trying to work out must
have happened is like finding bits of a jigsaw puzzle (evidence) and
trying to assemble a picture with no clear idea of what the big
picture might have looked like. The story is far from complete but
an image has emerged that in my mind begins to challenge current
understanding of events during and at the end of the Ice Ages.
For example, the presence of mysterious carved channels
called ‘cart ruts’, near Baku which are very similar to
those found in Malta and indeed throughout the Mediterranean region.
Cart ruts are a feature of a Neolithic maritime culture. This raises
the question of possible connections between the Mediterranean and
the Caspian Sea. (Gallagher, 2002)
These enigmas called out for investigation and became an
absorbing and wide ranging study. Looking into geomorphological,
biological, archaeological aspects has revealed a story of epic
proportions. In order to make sense of the terraces and strandlines
it has been necessary to consider factors in additon to glacial
meltwater, such as diverted Russian rivers, glacial dam collapses in
the Altai region and even the influx of water from the Arctic Ocean.
From geomorphological evidence (terraces and strandlines) it is
clear that momentous events took place and need to be explained. This
article aims to present a range of information that considers
different events from current scientific
understanding. The interpretations may turn out to be wrong, but the
ideas are amenable to scientific and academic investigation.
in the level of the Caspian Sea have greatly influenced coastal
communities for millennia.
This is due to the dynamic balance between regional climate,
temperature, rainfall in the catchment areas of the rivers feeding
the basin (principally the Volga), and evaporation from the surface
of the sea. As an endorheic basin (i.e., having no outflow),
water level will either rise or fall depending on climate and
the present era, fluctuations are only of
the order of a few meters, and while significant to those living near
the coastline, variations are minor when compared to the dramatic
regressions and transgressions associated with the Ice Ages (Mamedov.
1997). A Caspian
Sea high stand of 50 m above average sea level some 15,000 years ago
is considered be the highest elevation over the past 100,000 years
(Baker. 2007). Scientific understanding is that,
during ice ages, the Caspian Sea greatly shrinks due to a cooler,
drier climate. But at the end of an ice age, meltwater inundates
the northern watershed areas and drains via river systems into
low-lying basins of the Aral, Caspian, and Black Seas. Additional ice
cap melting from the Caucasus, Himalayas and Hindu Kush supplements
the inflow. Azerbaijan’s terraces, strandlines
that this is not a completely accurate picture as other factors seem
to be involved.
is recognized that during
Ice Ages Arctic Ocean ice fronts advanced onto mainland Russia and
blocked the north-flowing rivers (Yenissei, Ob, Pechora, Dvina, and
others) that supply most of the freshwater to the Arctic Ocean
(Baker, 2007), (Grosswald, 1998), (Mangerud et al., 2001 and 2004),
(Rudoy, 1998). As a result, large ice-dammed lakes formed between the
ice sheet in the north and the continental water divides to the
south. Lakes overflowed toward the south and, thus, the drainage of
much of the Eurasian continent was reversed. The result was a major
change in the water balance on the continent, decreased freshwater
supply to the Arctic Ocean, and hugely increased fresh water flow to
the Aral, Caspian, Black, and Baltic seas. (Figure
A consequence of this is that the world’s longest river was
created from Siberia to the Mediterranean with the Aral and Caspian
Seas becoming sediment traps for the diverted rivers.
Figure 1. Diagram showing the Eurasian ice sheets, pro-glacial lakes and diverted river route from Siberia to the Ponto Caspian region.
legacy of inundations can be seen
in the soft Azerbaijan landscape, as terraces and strandlines.
Coastal sediments and mud volcanoes provide a record of past deluges,
as mud, being soft, easily erodes with wave action to show past water
levels: prolonged exposure generates terraces while temporary
highstands create strandlines.
raised terraces can
be observed above 120m between Sumgayit and Siyazan ranging over 60
km. Other higher terraces were found as were parallel strandlines
ranging to about 225m above sea level in the valleys immediately to
the south of Besh Barmak and at Gilazi. (Figure
These elevations are obviously well in excess of the accepted Caspian
Sea highstand of 50 m a.s.l.
Figure 2. Parallel strandlines of Gilazi Valley. The upper strandline is at an elevation of ca 225m above average sea level and thought to be due to a combination river and glacial meltwater flooding. Strandlines are relatively young.
possible explanation is that the land itself has risen due to
tectonic uplift. However, radiocarbon dating of bulk shell fragments
obtained from Gobustan terraces shows that this is not a correct
Coordinates are 40°
fragments obtained at an elevation of 125m, 80-85m and 18-30m a.s.l.,
have measured ages of 16,770y, 14,310y and 28,500y respectively (by
Beta lab). Logically, with tectonic uplift, older shells would
naturally be located on a higher stratum above younger ones. This is
not the case and demonstrates the dominance of transgression over
uplift. In addition, the Caucasus are known to be rising at a rate
of 1cm per year though this may not be true at the Caspian coastline
where downward dipping stratigraphic layers near Besh Barmak and
Gobustan indicate that subsidence into the Caspian basin may also be
evidence of flooding is clearly demonstrated on a mudflow at the
entrance to the Gilazi valley, where several strandlines ranging from
75 to 180m asl can be found. These are indicative of a massive
short-lived deluge perhaps with falling sea level. (Figure
mud flow coordinates: 40°50'50.43"N,
Figure C. Satellite image of Gilazi Valley entrance mudflow. Parallel strandlines cut across the soft strata and provide evidence of recent flooding/transgression.
interest here is the fact that correlations
of terrace tops can also be made with spillover elevations. For
example the extensive coastal plain seen to the north of Baku ranges
from sea level at minus 28m to approximately +26m a.s.l. This upper
elevation corresponds with the Manych spillover to the north of the
Caucasus where the Caspian Sea would overflow to the Sea of Azov and
Black Sea. If true, this indicates that there has been little
change in elevation due to tectonics since the last spillover. As
such it strongly indicates that the +26 m Manych spillway determines
the upper level of the coastal terrace.
this observation it was reasonable
to consider a similar explanation for the stepped appearance of even
higher terraces noted in the vicinity of Gilazi valley entrance. In
this regard, the elevations of two other terrace tops were found to
correlate with the Turgay spillover (+125m), which drained the large
Siberian Glacial Lake Mansi, and the Kes Ket spillover at 167m which
drained Glacial Lake Yenisei. The correlations may be a coincidence,
but may indicate that higher Azerbaijani terraces are similarly
defined by the elevation of the Siberian spillways and possibly
associated with the inflowing of Russian rivers. In effect, the
stepped terraces in the Azerbaijan landscape may be the result of an
incremental river inflow cascading from Glacial Lakes Mansi and
Yenisei, so resulting in a staircase like appearance.
of prolonged river inflow during Ice Ages may be found near Gobustan
in the form of thick varve like mud sediments at a sheltered
These strandline-like features ranging from 60 to 80 m a.s.l. are in
fact hardened dark brown coloured muddy sediment layers eroding from
the hillside. (Escarpment
Radiocarbon dating of bulk shell fragments sampled at around 100m
a.s.l. at the top of the escarpment provided a measured age to be
32460 +/- 480 years. (Beta Lab). This indicates a relatively young
geological age and suggests the fine sediments may be due to
Pleistocene inputs from diverted Siberian rivers.
Figure 3. Apparent strandlines on sheltered face of a mud volcano near Gobustan. Their presence in erosion channels indicates sedimentary origins. Elevation is between 60 and 80m a.s.l.
is interesting to note here
that the bulk shell samples extracted from the escarpment are at a
lower elevation (100m) and are older than those found on terraces at
nearby Gobustan (125m). If the radiocarbon dating is accurate and
coastal tectonics discounted, this further supports the
interpretation of huge transgressions in the Caspian basin during the
in an unpublished paper by Lioubimtseva,
et al, provide evidence of a single giant freshwater lake covering
most of the West Siberian Plain is deduced.
some 1500 km from north to south, and a similar distance east to west
at its widest points, at its maximum extent it would have had a
surface area at least twice that of the Caspian Sea. Varying from
several tens of metres to over 100 m in depth according to local
topography, it would have contained of the order of hundreds of
thousands of cubic km of water….this mega-lake appears from
the available dates to have reached its maximum
extent by around 24,000 years ago, and to have existed in some form
up until around 12,000 or 13,000 radiocarbon years ago’
this is correct, then it suggests that the Turgay spillway at +126m
a.s.l. draining the West Siberian Lake (i.e., Lake Mansi) was
contiguous with the swollen Caspian Lake during the Ice Age and
corresponds to both the extensive Sumgayit
to Siyazan raised terrace and Gobustan
radiocarbon dating around 17,000 years BP.
is therefore suspected that the swollen Caspian basin was deluged by
a combination of diverted river water for millennia during the Ice
Age when Arctic Ocean flowing rivers in Siberia were ice dammed,
followed by a period of glacial meltwater as the Ice Age ended. In
effect prolonged flooding due to river diversion created broad
terraces, while at the end of the Ice Age beginning around 18ka BP
glacial meltwater supplemented the water level to create even higher
strandlines such as those seen ranging some 16km inland into the
Dam Collapse in the Altai.
diversion of rivers and glacial meltwater were not the only source of
flooding into the Caspian basin.
Other catastrophic floods happened with the collapse of glacial dams
in the Altai region of Western Mongolia. The largest of these bodies
of water involved the Chuya-Kuray
lakes, which had a combined volume of 3500 km3. Such dams according
to Professor Alexei Rudoy were unstable at the beginning and end of
the Ice Ages. (Pers comment). As rivers became trapped by advancing
glaciers at valley entrances, lakes built up only to reach a point of
instability resulting in collapse of the ice dams. Glacial dams
failed every 100 years or so, resulted in multiple floods and created
characteristic features such as giant ripples, berms and scabland
morphology (Rudoy). A similar sequence of glacial dam collapse has
been extensively studied in the United States at Glacial Lake
Missoula. Those from the Altai however are not so well known, but
would have been equally devastating to those in the flood paths. The
volume of water released with the largest of the Altai floods amounts
to around 4% of the volume of the present Caspian Sea volume (79,000
km3), (Aladin. 1993), and would be sufficient to raise the Caspian
Sea by a maximum of 9m given its current geography. Catastrophic
though these glacial dam collapse floods may have been to coastal
inhabitants, they were not responsible for the massive transgressions
suggested by the Azeri terraces, nor had they the same significance.
an aside, it may be speculated that even larger acute floods occurred
when the onshore
sea ice collapsed to release Lioubimtseva’s
West Siberian Lake into the Arctic Ocean.
the deluges into context, by extrapolating terrace and strandline
elevations across the Caucasus and into the Black Sea region, it must
have resulted in massive flooding across Eurasia
generate a super inland lake
a scale comparable in size, or larger, than the Mediterranean Sea.
In this regard evidence of flooding and raised terraces can also be
found in the Black Sea region where there are many examples of raised
terracing also reaching a height of +250m a.s.l. (Ertek, 2011).
Figure F. Approximation of areal extent of swollen Caspian Lake based on strandlines above 150m and 220m a.s.l.
inland sea or
great flood would be a good candidate for the primeval seas of legend
and myth. It may be possible that the collective memory of mankind
passed on these events for thousands of years, until they were
written in the ancient Aryan scriptures such as the Rigveda and
Avesta only later to be adopted by the ancient Sumerians, from whom
it maybe was recorded in the Bible. If so the earliest name for this
great flood would be the Sea of Vorukashah. (Chapylega).
This great flood however does not provide an explanation for the
events of the Biblical flood. There may be another candidate for
so much fresh water coursing into the Aral and Caspian Seas
(Kvalynian Lake) and Black Sea (Euxine Lake),
i.e. the Ponto
paradox becomes apparent. According to scientific literature, and
given that the world’s longest ever river, the 8000km long
meltwater cascade flowing from Siberia to the Mediterranean, it is
odd that the river showed no obvious sign of discharging into the
Aegean Sea during the period between 16,000 and 10,000 years BP.
Instead, sediment core samples taken from the Aegean Seabed
demonstrate that freshwater input only became significant between
10,000 and 6,000 years BP. (Aksu et al., 2002; Yanko-Hombach, 2007).(
Figure 4. Core sample information from Aegean Sea dating back to 16,000 BP. Freshwater out flow only began at 10,000 BP when Bosporus opened. Prior to this a continental interior endorheic lake must have prevailed.
can only mean that water was somehow trapped within a massive
interior Eurasian lake—one that must have functioned in an
endorheic manner. Indeed, the lack of discharge to the Aegean
demonstrates massive flooding of the continental interior. This
deduction supports the observations of raised terraces and
strandlines in the Black and Caspian Seas. It also means that the
Bosporus and Dardanelles were not yet opened to discharge excess
meltwater as there would be indicators in the Aegean Seabed as
meltwater flowed into it. With terrace and strandline elevations in
excess of 120m, it is probable that the Black Sea exit to the
Bosporus was as a closed bottleneck or choke point. In effect, it may
be hypothesized that spillover from the swollen Black Sea basin is
the reason for the Bosporus and Dardanelle channels opening around
10,000 years ago.
to the observation of freshwater input into the Ponto Caspian another
question arises concerning residual salinity. In view of the many
ice ages during the 2.5 million years or so of the Pleistocene
period, and the fresh water floods coursing through Caspian basin, it
seems paradoxical that the Caspian Sea should have retained a
salinity of around 120/00
1/3 oceanic water strength). Surely the Caspian basin saltwater,
(and for that matter Azerbaijan’s salinated soils), would have
winnowed or leached away long ago? How could this be? After all, it
is recognized that the Black Sea suffered a similar Ice Age fate and
was considered fresh water before 7500 years ago. Indeed, the Black
Sea oscillated from a completely isolated interior lake to a marine
environment more than eight times (Schrader, 1979; Zubakov, 1988).
Logically then, (and even though the Ponto–Caspian may have
functioned as a massive Eurasian endorheic basin, so retaining some
saline waters), flushing and winnowing should have rendered the
Caspian Sea a fresh water basin during the Pleistocene. While the
Black Sea can refill from the Mediterranean Sea during interglacial
oceanic highstands via the Bosporus, geography and topography
dictates that the Caspian Sea cannot. If this assumption is correct
then it begs the questions how did
the Caspian Sea replenish its salt level?
logical answer is that floodwater entered the continental interior
from the Arctic Ocean. If this was the case then there would surely
be evidence for this. In fact, a range of diverse evidence including
relic Arctic and temperate water species, rock art, classical text
and maps testifies that this might indeed be the case.(Figure
Figure D. Classical map from antiquity by Erastothenes 200 BC, - one of several maps that show the Caspian Sea connected to the Arctic Ocean.
Ponto Caspian exhibits
a number of relic Arctic species chief among which is the Caspian
is a distant relation to the Arctic Ringed seal
P. hispida. DNA
studies indicate that P.
from its northern cousin by some 700,000 years and became established
in the Caspian. This clearly demonstrates past connections.
at another species, Ivanova reports
the presence of the common or Blue Mussel Mytilus
in gravity cores at a depth of 100m in the North East of the Black
Sea, dating between 6000 and 4400 year BP (Ivanova et al 2007). This
is of significance because M.
is a temperate shallow water northern species found in the Atlantic
and the Arctic Ocean/Barents Sea. It neither lives in the Caspian Sea
nor the Mediterranean Sea, which excludes introduction from these
locations. Its cousin Mytilus
Mediterranean mussel—only began to colonize the Black Sea from
around 7500 BP once two way Bosporus flow was established (Major
species of interest is the Common Cockle Cardium
edule (i.e. Cerastoderma edule) which
is found in the
Caspian basins. Scientists consider the animal was transported into
the Black Sea as larvae once the global sea level reached the
Bosporus sill at minus 40m a.s.l. around 7500 years BP. This however
presents a provenance problem for again the common cockle is also not
native to the Mediterranean Sea. While there is a possibility that
the bivalve is misidentified (from its cousin C.
it does not explain how the Caspian and Aral Seas became populated.
In addition, in order to reach the Caspian and Aral basins, the
cockle had to migrate overland and uphill hundreds of kilometers,
against the current, which is clearly unlikely, though birds and even
anthropogenic influences (boats) may be involved as vectors. Of
significance, too, is that C.
(and its cohort the lagoon cockle C.
cannot survive in fresh or brackish water. Given that the Common
Cockle is not native to the Mediterranean Sea an Arctic Ocean /
Barents Sea influx may explain its presence.
research in the Black Sea supports
the suggestion of an Arctic marine inflow at the beginning of the
Holocene. For example, Major et al. observes the following:
sharp transition to lower CaCO3 at 9,400 years BP and a pronounced
increase in (the
and Sr/Ca. These changes signal the marine incursion, thus showing
that marine input commences after the carbonate peak.
presence of two shell of euryhaline species (Cardium and Adacna).
The 14C age of both shells, measured at two different labs, was
9,850±80(90) 14C years (~10.85 ka BP cal.)
basin and continental slope cores document a pronounced shift in the
of bulk carbonate from light freshwater values (~-6 per mil) to
heavier values approaching the modern marine range (0 to +2‰) between
9,000 and 8,000 y 14C
BP (10.1 to 8.85 ka BP cal.) (Deuser, 1972; Major et al., 2002).
Over this interval the mollusk stratigraphy shows a change in
assemblage reflecting a transformation to increasingly brackish
environments (Popov, 1973; Shcherbakov & Babak, 1979).
final shift to marine values in Sr and oxygen isotope ratios at 9.4
ka BP cal corresponds to connection
with the global ocean, and marks the onset of sedimentation on the
Black Sea continental shelf.
also show that the inundation by the Mediterranean began at ~9.4 ka
BP cal., earlier than previous indications of ~7.6 ka BP cal’
et al., 2002). Major’s
observations provide a controversial set of results that demonstrate
brackish and marine conditions began to develop in the Black Sea,
before the Mediterranean seemingly began to flow northwards through
the Bosporus. (Major, 2006)
Outflow from the Black Sea.
interpretation of an early onset Mediterranean inflow into the Black
Sea basin contradicts the theory of a Holocene outflow from the Black
Sea. Observations by Aksu et al, demonstrates a strong outflow to
the Aegean Sea between 10,000 to 6,000 years BP. (Figure
During this time, fresh water outflow persisted for some 3500 years.
such as: the presence of pollen, increase in total organic carbon, a
drop in seabed salinity, and presence of the dinoflagellate B.simplex
– a marker of cool low water salinity, all provide positive
evidence that the dominant flow was from north to south – Black
Sea to the Mediterranean. Today there is no sign of similar
terrestrial markers outflowing to the Aegean, so something clearly
happened at around 10,000 years ago to drive out fresh water from the
Black Sea. Furthermore, as it is only around 7600 years BP that
Mediterranean species begin to appear in the Black Sea - once a two
way flow becomes established through the Bosporus, this raises the
question of the cause of salination beginning some 3000 years
is also interesting to note from Aksu’s Aegean core samples
was no outflowing of fresh water from the Black Sea during
deglaciation from around 16,000 years BP up to the beginning of the
Holocene period 10,000 years ago. This indicates that the Bosporus
was not yet open and that glacial meltwater water was being retained
within the Eurasian interior in the late Pleistocene, thus providing
corroborative evidence for the elevated Azerbaijan strandlines and
Holocene outflow theory presents yet another puzzle to do with the
paleoclimate and the source of water creating the outflow.
Flooding begin towards the end of the Younger Dryas Ice Age period,
when glaciers were still reforming and the climate was cold and dry.
With reduced rainfall and minimal glacial meltwater inflow to the
Black Sea, the question of where such vast amounts of water could
have come from to fill the Black Sea basin to its overflow point,
becomes very pertinent. For this to have happened the theory requires
a rapid Black Sea refill from a low level standpoint below 100m to an
outflow elevation of the Bosporus sill at around minus 40m (Aksu et
al 2002). This again is of interest for in order to raise the Black
Sea/Lake by some 60 meters, the amount of water required would be
- i.e. the equivalent of about 800 years of rainfall, assuming double
today’s rainfall level. (Note. Currently, North European river
input is largely responsible for a net outflow from the Black Sea of
around 300 km3/yrAs
such rainfall alone could not provide sufficient water to create the
consequence, the Holocene outflow theory demonstrates a dominant
fresh water outflow but seems to be unable to account for the large
volumes of freshwater exiting the Black Sea Basin. Equally at this
early time marine conditions begin to become established in the Black
Sea but with species that are not found in the Mediterranean. This
suggests that the Mediterranean cannot be the source of the marine
influx and so points in the direction of an influx of Arctic Sea
that this happened,
then denser sea water would enter the Ponto Caspian and displace
fresh water towards the Mediterranean. The net effects would be: a
protracted outflow of Black Sea fresh water; the commencement of
salination; and an influx and colonization of some arctic species.
Terrestrial fresh water outflowing and associated biomarkers would
also cease once as the outflow weakened and two way flow normalized
in the Bosporus, ( - a feature that persists today).
late Pleistocene / Early Holocene Arctic marine influx seems to
provide answers to the
question of the Holocene outflow, but this then raises the question
of how arctic waters could enter the continental interior.
question of a possible Arctic Ocean inflow, the very different late
Ice Age environmental conditions need to be considered. With the
weight of two to three kilometres of ice pressing down on the land,
the Earth’s crust was depressed downwards. As such this would
have allowed sea water to travel much further inland. With the ice
sheets stretching south of Moscow it seems plausible that the
northern landmass was depressed such that a route was opened through
to the Caspian and Black Seas. For this to happen, the Earth’s
crust would have to be depressed by around 100-150m. Even today
isostatic rebound is continuing to slowly raise Scotland and Northern
Europe so it seems not unreasonable that the land was depressed
enough for sea to enter the continental interior.
is that that tides are especially high in northern latitudes: for
example spring tides at the Bay of Fundy can reach 16m. This
tidal phenomenon exists because the bay has a few distinct features:
a substantial amount of water, a unique funnel shape and immense
depth that causes resonance where
its natural period of oscillation is between 12 and 13 hours. Indeed,
day, the tides move more than 100 km3 in and out of the bay, a volume
four times greater than
the discharge of the world’s rivers combined. Sediments
at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy are also characterized by huge sand
waves. (Gulf of Maine Census, 2012). Interestingly to
of the Barents Sea, the
tides at Mezen Bay are up to 10 metres and sand waves are also
present offshore with wave heights up to 17m. Like the Bay of Fundy
these are hydrogenic sculptural relief forms of tidal origin.
(Pavlidid, Ionin, Scherbakov, et al., 1998).
may be speculated then that due
to a combination of lower Ice Age topography and oceanographic
conditions, (perhaps with tidal action and the North Atlantic
Conveyor funnelling water into the newly exposed and the
isostatically depressed landscape), conditions may have been created
that favoured spring tides ‘pumping’ large volumes of
seawater into the headwaters of the Volga and Don. Such a scenario,
perhaps lasting a few thousand years as the ice sheets disintegrated
would is worth considering. Other than a cosmic collision and super
tsunami, the ice sheet isokinetic depression and large tides may
provide answers the earlier questions and an explanation as to why
the Caspian Sea is salty.
Classical References indicating an Arctic Inflow.
there are also
references in classical texts that allude to Russian rivers swelling
and flowing into the Black Sea. One even involves seals becoming more
common in the Caspian:
the history of Berossus, quoted by Syncellus and Eusebius, it is
clear that seals began
to appear in greater numbers (in the Caspian) as the deluge drew
near, which is significant as indicating an inflow from the Arctic
into the Asiatic Mediterranean (Fessenden,
is worth noting too that there
are a number of ancient maps such as Eratosthenes and Strabo,
indicating the Caspian Sea was connected to the Arctic Ocean in
antiquity. Indeed, Strabo also mentions that some persons still
believed in a connection of the Caspian with the lake Maiotis (Sea of
Azov), thus indicating a much later connection between the two
basins. (Flinders Petrie, 1924).
Sicula further provides an account of the Black Sea bursting through
into the Bosporus. (1BC
– Bibliotheca Historica):
Samothracians have a story that before the floods which befell other
people, a great one took place among them, in the course of which the
outlet at the Cyanean Rocks was first rent asunder and then the
The Cyanean Rocks were two islets which in Diodorus' time stood at
the Bosporus strait where this joins the Black Sea. (Strabo).
was clearly referring to the Samothracians, remembering that the
former Bosporus land bridge had been 'rent asunder' by a bursting
through of water.
the Pontus (Black Sea) which had at that time
form of a lake, was so swollen by the rivers that flow into it, that,
because of the great flood which had poured into it, the waters burst
forth violently into the Hellespont.
all of the writings that survive from antiquity only Diodorus
mentions the Black Sea was once a lake before 5600 BC.
Diodorus gives no explanation for the large volumes of water filling
the northern rivers, and as this cannot be explained by glacial
meltwater or rainfall, then however improbable it may be,
consideration should be given to an inflow of Arctic waters.
Rock Art Evidence of a Marine Inflow.
at the marine influx question
from yet another perspective and acknowledging that the Caspian Sea
once overflowed to the Sea of Azov/Black Sea, it becomes possible to
reinterpret some intriguing rock art at Gobustan archaeological
reserve. Two examples are relevant.
‘fish’ carved on this outcrop bears no anatomical
relationship to any Caspian Sea species. The large size of the
carving and its anatomical features suggests it may in fact be a
dolphin or beaked whale as viewed from above. (Farajova, 2009)
Figure A. A large fish like petroglyph which bears more of a resemblance to a toothed whale. Large cetaceans can only be present if the Caspian Sea was connected to the Arctic Ocean.
second carving is remarkably like a diving bird. The carving shown
in Figure B
has two fin-like forelimbs, two flipper like rear limbs and a tail.
If it is accepted that the ancient rock artists were accurate in
their observations, the closest similarity to any animal is actually
to a bird—possibly a member of the Auk family, the Guillemot.
Coincidentally the most common Auk in Arctic waters is Brunnich’s
Guillemot and a characteristic feature of this bird is a distinct
white stripe on its beak, - the gape stripe. It is interesting to
note that the rock art also appears to show a line or stripe on the
beak and suggests the Stone Age artist has done a remarkable job in
portraying this species.
Figure B. Comparison of dolphin like petroglyph to the Arctic Brunnich’e Guillemot. Note feathered tail like appearance and characteristic ‘gape’ stripe on bill.
both interpretations are correct, (whale
and auk) then it suggests that cetaceans and seabirds penetrated far
into the continental interior. If so, perhaps the ancient
cartographers were correct in their ancient maps showing a Caspian
Sea channel open to the Arctic.
Boat and Zig Zag lines. (Boyukdash Boulder No. 29)
the most famous carved panel at Gobustan is that of the Hunter Scene
and a multi-oared ‘sun boat’. Here, it is interesting to
observe that the wavy or zigzag lines behind the hunter are
interpreted as water. Azeri archaeologists consider the zigzags to
represent rainfall. However knowing that the Caspian Sea overflowing
into the Manych corridor at +26m a.s.l, it becomes possible to
consider that the long thin set of zigzag lines running behind the
hunter, with an off take to the top left, may in fact, be a
representation of a swollen the Caspian Sea. (Figure
The Caspian Sea similarly is elongated and had an outflow to the
North West. In effect, this carving may provide an eye-witness
account of the Caspian Sea spilling through the Manych corridor into
the Sea of Azov. If so, it supports Strabo’s comments, but also
suggests the Caspian Sea was elevated at least in the Early Neolithic
when the boat carvings were created. Given that there are many
multi-oared boats carved at Gobustan, it further suggests that Early
Man had the knowledge and capability to navigate great distances
potentially from Central Asia to the Mediterranean.
Figure 5. Zig zag lines behing hunter are recognized as meaning water. Archaeologists consider it to be rain. However the juxtaposition near to the Sun Boat and the elongated shape plus the off take to the top left suggests this may be a representation of the Caspian Sea at an elevation in excess of 26m a.s.l.
evidence of possible navigation and cultural connections may be
implied from the presence of ‘cart ruts’ on the Apsheron
Peninsula. While it is not known exactly what these man made carvings
were used for, they are very similar to the more extensive ‘cart
ruts’ found around the Mediterranean. The latter, particularly
those in Malta date, from around 7000 to 4000 years BP and are the
product of a maritime culture
(Gallagher, 2002; Mottershead, 2008).
With an elevated sea level, East to West navigation, was a distinct
this regard and of possible significance are
numerous rock art carvings of multi-oared boats in Egypt’s
Wadis Hamamat and Barramyia (Wilkinson,
2003). These carvings
have strong similarities to those found at Gobustan. This could be
archaeologically important, for the famous Egyptologist Sir William
Mathew Flinders Petrie was convinced (based on philological and some
archaeological evidence) of ancestral connections between
pre-dynastic Egyptians and the Caucasus. He was, however, unable to
explain how this could have come about, and left the challenge open
to future generations.
this context it is noteworthy that pottery
from the pre-dynastic Badarian period similarly shows twin pennanted
multi-oared boats passing by a long line of mountains which is
interpreted by Margaret Murray as descriptive of the landscape passed
on the journey made by Egyptian incomers (Murray, 1949). (Figure
This frames the question, - could the migrants be navigating along
the Caucasus Mountain range? It is also significant that the
upraised arm gesture is a relatively common symbol in Azerbaijan’s
rock art, and even appears in an as yet unstudied huge 200m geoglyph.
Figure E. Rock art boat with multiple oarsmen, a twin pennant and human figure with upraised arms show similarities between Azerbaijan and Egypt.
of a massive inland body of water and the probability of navigation
over huge distances, the central nature of the Caucasian isthmus
begins to assume greater significance than it does today. For
example the Caucasus becomes an obvious place for mariners to settle.
In this regard, one of the perplexing problems confronting
linguists is the large
and extremely varied array of languages spoken in and around the
Caucasus Mountains. Indeed, linguistic comparison allows these
languages to be classified into several language families with little
or no discernible affinity to each other. (Wikipedia). While it is
currently difficult to comprehend how this situation could have
arisen, the puzzle perhaps begins to resolve itself if ancient
navigation in a deluged landscape is taken into consideration.
Linguists may wish to consider this possibility. Indeed a
subsequent diaspora from the Caucasus region by boat might also offer
a line of investigation for flood stories in more distant lands,
cultures and languages.
several years now, efforts to try to understand the archaeological
and geomorphological puzzles
in the Azerbaijani landscape have been perplexing and frustrating and
remain an engrossing challenge. The raised terraces and strandlines
are obviously very real and call for scientific explanation. Trying
to make sense of them has been a stretch of the imagination, involved
exploring several scientific disciplines and looking for clues far
outside the Caspian region and deep into the Ice Ages. While there
may be other interpretations for the flood events and the biological
and archaeological phenomena observed, the complex picture emerging
involving river and glacial meltwater flooding, plus a period of
Arctic water inflow, (however improbable), seems to provide
explanations for the varied observations and findings. There is an
internal consistency in the observations that point towards different
types of flooding. The theories and interpretations may well be
incorrect, but are of interest and are amenable to investigation.
science and technology have many powerful investigative tools, and it
is hoped that this account will serve to encourage investigation.
Soil chemistry and the search for microfossils could provide early
confirmation of an Arctic inflow. If any of the above ideas were
confirmed, especially the sequence and timing of the floods, the
extent of a massive Eurasian lake sea, and the reality of an Arctic
marine incursion, then it would be of far-reaching significance to
many branches of science. The
consequences of a Eurasian lake would surely have affected
paleoclimate, regional biogeography and human demographics. Indeed,
confirmed, the possible early Holocene marine flood may even provide
an explanation for Biblical and legendary flood stories.
and academics at the Azerbaijan National Academy of Science are in a
fortunate position to investigate the geomorphology of mud volcanoes
and landscape to confirm flood types, sequences, heights and
timelines. Determining these could provide an invaluable insight into
a very different landscape: one where internal navigation may have
been possible for millennia in prehistory. Such a scenario, must
surely have influenced
ancient human life and helped
shape prehistory. This is surely worth investigating.