Noah's flood may have begun in the Black Sea

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The Bible story of Noah and the Ark may have had a real basis, scientists have discovered. But it was not the world that was devastated - it was early farmers around the Black Sea.

Researchers have discovered evidence that the area was overwhelmed by an enormous deluge roughly 7,000 years ago - 3,000 years before a Babylonian flood myth known as Gilgamesh, which in turn predated the Biblical myth by roughly a thousand years.

They reckon the flood was caused by the collapse of a huge "plug" of silt in the Bosphorus channel separating the Black Sea - then a freshwater lake - from the Mediterranean.

The scientists believe the incoming water would have had the force of 200 Niagaras, and made a roar that could be heard 60 miles away.

More than 60,000 square miles of land would have been flooded within a few months. People displaced by the flood could have returned to Mesopotamia, with an apocalyptic tale that became a legend first for Babylonians and then the Hebrews.

The key to the flood was the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago, when the first farmers from the Middle East began settling new lands further afield.

Ocean levels would have been lower than today because of the amount of water trapped in glaciers and the colder oceans.

Bill Ryan and Walt Pitman of New York's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory told New Scientist magazine: "As the glaciers melted and the sea level rose, the ocean might have come pouring through.

"At first it might have been just a trickle, but pretty soon it would have cut a pretty deep channel and come rushing in [to the Black Sea]."

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