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the deluge of the Scriptural Genesis record

Presenting Biblical research into the Biblical flood, Noah's flood, including scientific evidences and Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek meanings.

"The water having poured over the terrestrial disk,
human dwellings disappeared. The wind carried them away.
They fastened several boats to one another.
The waves traversed the Rocky Mountains.
A great wind drove them.
Presently the moon and the earth disappeared.
Men died of a terrible heat.
They also perished in the waves.
Men bewailed what happened.
Uprooted trees floated about in the waves.
Men having fastened boats together trembled with cold.
Alas, men were enclosed under the tent without doubt."

The above translation is attributed to the native tribe called the Esquimaux of Canada. Just one of hundreds of flood traditions that many scholars have collected.

Also from further south in the Carolinas we have the following very interesting tradition:

"a star fell to the earth, and rain soon followed.
Days and days of rain quenched the fire.
Great holes burned in the earth by the fire were filled,
forming a great inland sea.

The above traditions would seem to be describing a super super hurricane combined with a burning effect due to the impact of the star. If you need a reminder of just how destructive a major hurricane can be see Mitch.

One survey of 40 traditions of global water destruction, which included traditions that circled the globe and included most major centers of population and many island tribes, showed that they verified the major principles of the Genesis record as follows.

(from Byron C. Nelson, The Deluge Story in Stone (Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1931), Appendix II, Flood Traditions, Figure 38)

Human seed saved-92%
Boat provided-87%
Universal Destruction-60%
Favored Family-38%
Man in transgression-35%
Divine Destruction-28%
Birds sent out-22%
Animal seed saved-20%
Survivors worship-18%
Divine favor on saved-12%

In looking for a possible natural catastrophic cause of the great flood many theories have been proposed. Looking back at the Esquimaux tradition we note the following characteristics. High water, strong wind, high heat, large waves, uprooted and floating vegetation, and trembling cold. One possible scenario which might account for a majority of these factors is large amounts of volcanic type activity along portions of the subsurface ocean ridges for a short time. Fig 1 below shows examples of the type of activity that can happen along the earth's surface plate lines and Fig 2 shows the present configuration of the subsurface ridge areas. Note the massive size of the mid-Atlantic ridge! ( Information on plate tectonics may be seen at )


Should greatly increased activity along the plate lines cause heating of the oceans along these lines there would be many large and terrible "super" storms which would greatly disturb the climate of the entire globe. NOAA is currently doing research on the subsurface plate lines and they have discovered many indicators of recent and current subsurface activity. And nearly all scientists agree that the materials along the subsurface spreading ridge lines are of recent origin. It is also possible that the flow could be of such a magnitude as to cause changes in the sea level. For example, the surface flow area of the Columbia lava plateau covers over 200,000 square miles and in places is up to a mile thick. Also possibly the polar ice caps would be temporarily melted. After the volcanic activity stopped there would be a transition period as climatic activity decreased and lesser affected areas of the extreme north and south continents would return to frigid climates, but with greatly increased moisture in the atmosphere it is theorized that an ice age would result.

We all know how catastrophic can be the effects of only a 3 degrees Centigrade increase of ocean surface temperature due to the past El Nino. When El Nino is active, a giant high pressure system centered near Easter Island drops slightly in pressure and touches off a change in Pacific currents, bringing warmer water in certain areas and colder water to others. An area 600 miles northwest of Easter Island was found to have 1133 seamounts and volcanoes, far more than any other area known on dry land or under the ocean. In 1995, scientists reported that a spate of undersea quakes and lava eruptions had preceded the onset of the El Nino cycle then in effect. Dr. Daniel A. Walker, a geophysicist at the University of Hawaii, said that the seismic activity was the most unusual it had been in 30 years and tentatively linked it to El Nino. Greater increases on a global scale would obviously cause destruction of a greater magnitude.

Using available computer simulation models it is possible to a limited extent to simulate the possible rainfall effects of the theorized condition. Of course, there have been many proposed theories as to the configuration of the global surface at the time of the flood, but for now it is convenient to assume that this configuration was as it is today. Fig 3 below shows one possible rainfall configuration for the Mediterranean area as we know it today which is shown as a visual reference. And Fig 4 below shows one very limited computer simulation in which global rainfall amounts are shown to be increased up to 10 times.

standard rain50

A second proposed possibility which would be consistent with the Algonquin Indian legend is the impact of an ice comet. Information indicates that they may consist of a large percentage of water with estimates at from 25 to 60 percent. The planet Pluto, (there's been much discussion lately as to whether it is indeed a true planet), has been estimated by one source to be up to 80% water. Many believe that Pluto and its rather large moon Charon are Kuiper Belt objects and that there are many other items nearing their size located in the belt.

cometsFig 5

To greatly increase the amount of water on the earth would require a rather large size object since the earth presently has approximately 340 x 10*6 cubic miles of water. A Pluto-type ice sphere of 320 miles in diameter would increase the water on the earth by about 5 percent. Pluto itself is 1450 miles in diameter. One comet that recently visited our skies was about 25 miles wide. It would be hard to imagine the catastrophic destruction that the impact of a 320-mile wide ice comet would cause to planet Earth.

More reasonable would seem to be a swarm of small ice comets over a few days time period. Quite possibly the Earth in its orbit could enter a band of small ice comets which shower the Earth with a considerable amount of water in a few days time period. Or also there is the possibility of the Earth orbit encountering the remains of a large comet that was broken up by impacts or encounters with the outer planets or their gravitational forces, or as will be shown below, a comet broken up by the heating effects of our Sun. Theoretically the larger outer planets such as Jupiter and Saturn work like sweepers to clean up a lot of the space trash before it comes into the neighborhood of our lesser planet Earth. For example the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted Jupiter over a period of 7 days (July 16 - July 22, 1994) with 20+ observable fragments.

SL9Fig 7
"Just before the first comet fragment hit Jupiter, Zdenek Sekanina wrote that based on Hubble Space Telescope observations in early July 1994 the fragments had effective diameters generally between 1 and 2 kilometers: Although the evidence points to an apparently continuing disintegration of the large fragments in numerous discrete events, objects a few km across still seem to have been present in early July, and the temporal variations in the effective diameters are likely to be primarily a rotational effect of strongly irregular shape." It can be estimated that prior to breakup and loss of much of the water content, the comet was possibly between 10 to 12 miles in diameter.

Comet after breakup
Fig 8, Comet 57P/du Toit-Neujmin-Delporte after splintering into at least 19 fragments

"Rabbi Moses Ben Nachman, a Jew living in Spain, wrote of God taking two stars from Khima and throwing them at the earth in order to begin the great flood. (from "Comets in Ancient Cultures" By Noah Goldman U. Maryland, College Park Scholars) An indicator that the flood comet appeared in the sky as a twin comet.

After being broken up and dispersed by the heating effects of the sun while still in space the fragmented comet must enter our atmosphere which is very hard on intruding high speed space objects! A very large percentage of them are broken up or "exploded" by the experience. Even iron meteorites such as the Gibeon meteorite, 90% iron, which was apparently a large object that burst high in the atmosphere and produced a debris field 70 miles (120 km) wide by 230 miles (390k km) long. The breakup was so complete that no major craters have ever been identified even though many masses between 100 and 500 kg have been found, and in the past few years an increasing number of small Gibeon meteorites have been located as modern metal detection equipment has allowed meteorite hunters to find the smaller specimens. (see news stories on latest meteorite shower) The majority of comet material would be considerably more fragile than that of most meteorites or asteroids.

It should also be noted that any natural cause for the flood must be relatively short-lived. In order for the larger animals and humans to survive, the area where they landed should return to near normal in just a few seasons. The Biblical chronology requires the heavy rains to stop after 40 days and for land to become dry enough for the occupants of the ark to emerge after 1 year and 17 days. After 11 months and 18 days plant growth has to have reappeared when the dove returned with a plucked leaf. And within a short time Noah was able to plant and harvest a vineyard. If the ocean waters were heated considerably due to subsurface volcanic activity along the mid-ocean ridges as proposed, it would take a relatively long time for ocean cooling back to near normal, possibly as long as 500 years or more.

How long it would take to return to near normal growing seasons due to an ice comet shower would seem to depend upon the size and number of comet fragments and the percentage of solid material versus water contained within the comets. The larger the number of fragments, the smaller the fragments and the higher the percentage of water, the faster the Earth atmosphere and surface could return to normal. The heavy rainfall from that portion of the comet's water that vaporized in the atmosphere would clean the air and minimize the effect of dust clouding from land impacts. Assuming a nearly optimal comet shower condition, probably portions of the Earth could return to normal growing seasons in a relatively short time, say within a decade or less. Since the major portion of the Earth surface is water, the probabilities are that most of the comet material that did not turn to vapor in the atmosphere and reached the surface would impact on water covered areas. This would not be inconsistent with the wording of the Scriptures since the Hebrew words translated as "fountains of the great deep broken up", can also be translated as "cleaved". In fact "to cleave" is the basic meaning of this Hebrew word "baqa" (Strong's # 1234), which is the opening up of an object due to a striking. The ice comet shower would also seem to better fit the Biblical record in that the heavy rains and great disturbances to the seas would start in a very short time after the impact of the first fragment with the atmosphere and the seas, and the heavy rains and the disturbances to the waters would start to decrease not long after the last major fragment had impacted. Therefore, if a high water content comet much larger than Shoemaker-Levy 9 was fragmented into say 100+ major fragments and many, many smaller fragments and impacted the Earth over approximately 40 days the result would seem to closely fit the Biblical record.

showerFig 9

cometFig 10

Conclusion; We have briefly summarized some of the many tribal traditions that seem to verify the Biblical account of the flood and presented only two of many possible theorizations concerning how a natural phenomenon could possibly cause such a great destructive event. See Appendix A and Appendix B for further expansion of the multi-fragment ice comet shower concept which our research to date seems to indicate as the most probable theory.

In attempting to visualize the true nature of the flood it might help to use the following amplified translation of 2 Peter 3:6.

Whereby the world that then was,
being dashed down (washed down, deluged, overflowed) with water,
perished (was fully destroyed):

Therefore, one must consider the possibility that a large portion of the damage of the flood was due to a "washing down" and "washing over" effect, as with flash flooding and tidal waves, instead of the standard interpretation of a deep standing flood of water that covered the entire globe.

Appendix A: COMET NOAH, a theoretical scenario

1 Kuiper Belt item Noah (KBNoah) leaves the belt possibly due to an encounter with another Kuiper Belt item or an encounter with planet Pluto

2 Breakup begins as ComeT Noah (CTNoah) nears the orbit of the inner planets due to planet gravitational pull and heating effects of the Sun. There is also the possibility of asteroid impacts. Its comet-type orbit is deflected by the effects of the gravitational pull of the inner planets.

3 CTNoah comes under the attraction of Earth's gravity and as it enters the exosphere break up accelerates due to higher gravitational effects and as heating starts due to friction of the Earth's atmosphere. A major portion of the ice evaporates as friction heat increases and becomes the heavy rains. That portion that does not evaporate, both of the ice and the solid material, impacts with the Earth's surface. A majority portion cleaves the surface of the seas and causes massive disturbances to the seas and tidal waves that run onto the land. That portion that impacts with the land causes surface disturbances, but the effect of fragments and dust being kicked up into the atmosphere is mitigated by the heavy rain, as compared to the what would happen with a dry asteroid impact. Impact craters are then heavily eroded by the rain and run off. After 40 days the effects of CTNoah are ended.

Aftereffects: The sea levels have raised considerably submersing a large portion of the seashores including much of the then-populated lands. The heavy rains and runoff have heavily eroded the highest mountains and highlands, forming new canyons and rivers. There is considerable floating debris on the surface of the waters in and on which the small animal and insect life survive. With time, runoff and erosion continues; and the seas slowly settle down. The pressures of the additional water cause Earthquakes and movements of the surface and sea bottoms resulting in both sinking and rising of land surfaces. The atmosphere starts to clear and the aftereffect rains lessen and the sea surface temperatures start to return to normal. Growth starts again from roots and seeds that remain on or near the land surface. After 1 year and 17 days it is safe for Noah, family and animal friends to exit the ark.

Appendix B: Evidences from Paleoindian Sites,
Astronomical Observations, Postglacial Sea Levels,
Ice Cores, and Archeological Discoveries

"Radiocarbon dating indicates that switching from Bølling to Allerød to Younger Dryas climatic regimes during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition caused regional hydrological conditions to change suddenly from desiccation and declining water tables to rising water tables at essentially the same time across North America. During Younger Dryas reduced evaporation due to colder temperatures caused what precipitation there was to be more effective in recharging water tables (making black mats and aquolls) and raising water levels in ponds and lakes (diatomites, marls and gyttjas). How did this cause 32 genera of Pleistocene fauna to become extinct immediately prior to the Younger Dryas event? Some have argued that extinction was gradual with species dropping out at different times in the late Pleistocene or that a domino effect occurred as the extinction of one group led to the extinction of another resulting in a crash of the ecological system. These scenarios would have taken more time than the geochronology allows. The sudden extinction occurred at exactly the onset of the Younger Dryas deep freeze. Therefore, climate change is very likely a significant factor. But it also occurred during a time of depleted watering places and at the same time as predation by Clovis folk. Therefore, what may have done them in was the sudden and dramatic climate change combined with the hunting pressure on weakened animals concentrated at the few existing watering places which may have been frozen over. On the other hand, the extinction is so quick and complete that I wonder if something we really don’t yet understand happened 10,800 14C years ago at the real Pleistocene-Holocene boundary." ( From "Stratigraphic Manisfestations of Bolling, Allerod, and Younger Dryas Climate at Paleoindian Sites in North America and the Causes of Extinction" by C. V. Haynes, Jr.; available at )


"Dr. Clube ascribes other events including the Old Testament story of Noah and his Ark to a Dark Age linked with colliding heavenly bodies. He also believes that climatic changes, including fears of present global warming, may have a cosmic component. There is sufficient evidence, he says, to indicate that collisions happen within centuries and millenniums rather than millions and billions of years, with multiple encounters more likely than sceptics claim. " ("A cosmic trail with destruction in its wake",by Nick Nuttall Times Newspapers Limited The Times, May 24, 1990, Thursday)

"Abstract: The structure of the Taurid meteoroid complex is investigated using orbital element measurements from the IAU Meteor Data Center. The complex is found to have been formed during the last about 10 kyr, this time-scale corresponding to a probable late stage in the evolution of the parent object, a giant comet which was apparently captured into a small-perihelion, short-period orbit about 20 kyr ago and which, in an initial highly active phase, gave rise to the material that now broadly constitutes the zodiacal cloud. Models of the evolution of the complex under gravitational perturbations suggest that meteoroids must have originally left the parent object near perihelion, but also allow the possibility that fragmentations have occurred when large disintegration products collided with objects in the asteroid belt." ( "The structure and evolution of the Taurid complex", STEEL, D. I.; ASHER, D. J.; CLUBE, S. V. M. ,Royal Astronomical Society, Monthly Notices (ISSN 0035-8711), vol. 251, Aug. 15, 1991, p. 632-648)


Also Alexander Tollmann, "a professor in the institute of geology at the University of Vienna, compared the numerous myths of a great flood, recorded in almost every prehistoric civilisation, with the geological evidence for a comet impact at about the same time. He used the two sources of information to date the flood very precisely, to around the year 9,600BC.

Two discoveries are central to his claim. One is the distribution of the splinters of molten rock thrown up by the impacts, known as tektites. There was, he said, a huge concentration of them in sediments laid down about 10,000BC. Variations in the amounts in different parts of the world suggested Earth was hit by seven large fragments and many smaller ones.

The other is the apparent sudden increase in radioactive carbon-14 found in fossilised trees dating back to the same era. This, said Tollmann, was due to the destruction of the ozone layer by the comet, an event that exposed the atmosphere to higher levels of radiation and increased carbon-14 production."

Lake Varve Chronology
Modified Fig. PE-4 from


We also find a similar time estimate from postglacial sea level data and from the sea level data we get a very rough estimate of the size for the ice comet.

"As the last great ice sheets thinned, retreated, and disappeared, their water was returned to the oceans. Radiocarbon dating of drowned reefs, swamps, coastal features, and river channels allows the reconstruction of both the rapid decay of ice sheets and the gradual climb to present sea level. Rapid sea level rise about 12,000 years ago may represent the major decay of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet, and about 9000 years ago, the Laurentide."

Post Glacial Sea Levels

"The Laurentide Ice Sheet had nearly disappeared by about 5000 years ago, thus the last 10 m of sea level rise cannot be explained by ice sheet decay. Thermal expansion of ocean waters and isostatic uplift of the shallow North Sea and Hudson Bay (spilling their water into the larger oceans), are the most likely explanations." ( From "A Primer on glacio-eustatic sea levels" at )

They are saying that they cannot really explain the estimated last 10 meters of sea level rise for the last 5000 or so years (The Scholl study in Florida indicates only a 2 meter rise in the last 5000 years.). Not often discussed is the fact that all data has an error band, and in the case of data derived from C14 dating methods there is considerable error, see Appendix C below, and also due to interpretations of the physical evidences made by each individual researcher. The plot below from illustrates the disagreements from different research studies and the uncertainty spread at 10,000 BC becomes quite large. "One alternative supports a smooth sea level rise, while the other points to pulses in the addition of meltwater to the world oceans. While the picture is far from a clear and universally accepted,"

Seal Level Varances
Therefore, there are many possible curve shapes that can fit within the wide error band that their data has. Including a sudden rise of sea level due to a comet induced flood followed by a relatively rapid melting of the ice sheets due to a sudden warming of the climate. The below indicated 13 degree temperature rise in less than 50 years at the close of the Younger-Dryas would be quite catastrophic.


We also see a shift in the recorded icecore acid (SO4) levels in the data plot shown below. (Most probably there is a discontinuity in the icecore at this point.)

icecore SO4 levels
Zooming in a little closer and looking at particle Accumulation and ECM (electrical conductive measurement, considered as a measurement of acidity), we see in both curves a spike due to volcanic activity and in the Accumulation plot it is preceeded by a data pulse that appears to not be associated with the volcanic activity. Obviously we would like to firmly state that this is particle accumultaion due to the proposed comet encounter, but actually the data is just not that reliable with unexplained pulses in other areas, and then there is also the strong probability of a short discontinuity in the data at this point.
End of Younger Dryas

Taking a look at the sudden sea level changes of Lake Van (near Mt. Ararat) as shown in the figure below, we see an increase in the levels at approximately the time period of interest. The problem here is the dating errors and accuracy for each of the respective studies. The Ice Core Working Group in their publication of May 1998 proposed that their dating was within 2 percent for the periods in question, which would give possible errors of around 300 years. The Lake Van working group says "The age correlation between the Lake Van sediment and the Greenland ice core chronologies is very good for the Holocene, but a time difference of 570 (GRIP) or 730 (GISP2) years between the Late Pleistocene chronozones (Fig. 3; e.g. Grootes et al. 1993; Cuffey et al., 1995; Dansgaard et al., 1993) exists, which need further investigation." And we would further propose that they possibly got it a few years wrong in their correction , and instead the end of Younger-Dryas could possibly correspond to the sharp spike in sediment deposition for Lake Van. The data from seven studies including tree rings, varves, coral dating, and Greenland ice cores indicates the termination of the Younger Dryas to be within a range from 10,447 to 11,700 yr. B.P. ( avg. 11,074 +- 627 ) (from Paleo 122(1996)p.114,Table 2). The indicated time of the sediment deposition spike at approx. 10,500 yr. B.P. is just within the the lower end of this range.

Lake Van and Ice Core data
(modified fig. 3 from /fb/geo/gpi/landmann/abstract/ gusdvs.htm)

They describe the condition of the core sample at the time of the sharp spike in sediment deposition as follows:
"At around 10,500 yr B. P. a conspicious layer, consisting of 7-10 dark brown, thick varves ..., was deposited in Lake Van. Biomarker analyses of this organic carbon rich layer ... showed, that the lipid fraction consist mainly of longchain alkenones ... The author concludes that Prymnesiophyceae were the primary producers and suggests that a mixing event, following a long time of stagnation, led to the enrichment of nutrients in the lake water." (from Palaeo 122(1996)p.115)
We obviously would propose that "the flood" was the suggested "mixing event".


To obtain our very rough estimate of the minimum comet size, we are at the minimum assuming that it was the proposed multi-fragment ice comet shower that contributed the approximately 10 meter of sea level rise at 10,000 BC, instead of the other proposed theories. Then the estimated minimum ice comet size would be 120 miles in diameter, assuming 80% water content.


Well then , why can't we see physical evidence of the comet impact all over the globe? And the answer is that we can! J. Ronald Eyton and Judith I. Parkhurst in their paper "Re-Evaluation of the Extraterrestrial origin of the Carolina Bays" ( bobk/cbayint.html) carefully analyzed the possiblility of meteors, astroids or comets forming the Carolina Bays and concluded that it was most likely due to a comet. And J. C. Stager and L.B. Cahoon reported on sediment cores collected in Lake Waccamaw Bay Lake in southeastern North Carolina ( bobk/wacbay.html), the largest of the Carolina Bays, and concluded that it was between 10,000 to 15,000 years old. Formations similar to the Carolina Bays are located in many various locations around the globe. (We should note that many other researchers have proposed various other origins of the bays, including the now extinct giant beaver (extinct 9,000 to 10,000 years ago), but others report there is no evidence that the giant beavers built dams.) The 10,000 to 15,000 year old estimate is not exactly pin point dating, however, fortunately for us, significant comet encounters occur very infrequently, possibly only once every 100,000 years. Therefore we would expect there to be only one significant comet impact event within a 5,000 year time span.

"Allow me to pass along the following accounts of legends passed down among Native Americans concerning the origin of the Bay lakes on whose shores they long lived:

Of Lake Mattamuskeet:

".....kneeling at a sacrificial alter, she prayed to the Great Spirit to save the brave and her perishing people. After her invocation, a star fell to the Earth, and rain soon followed. Days and days of rain quenched the fire. Great holes burned in the Earth by the fire were filled, forming a great inland sea." (Algonquin Indian legend, Touring the Backroads of North Carolina's Upper Coast, p.268)

Of Lake Waccamaw

"The local Indians are known as the "People of the Falling Star," and they believed the lake was created by a falling star, perhaps a great meteorite." ( Waccamaw-Siouan Indian legend, Wild Shores, Exploring the Wilderness Areas of Eastern North Carolina. p.150)"

Carolina Bays
Carolina Bays Northwest of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
( cbays.htm)


We also get a rough confirmation of the proposed date of the flood from archaeological data concerning the place and time of the beginning of Neolithic agriculture, consistent with Genesis 9:20 "Noah, a man of the soil, began the planting ..." (NEB)

"The cradle of agriculture generally has been placed in the Jordan Valley of the southern Levant (today's Israel and Jordan). But work by Simcha Lev-Yadun of Israel's Agricultural Research Organization and colleagues suggest the first farms may have been farther north, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is today northeastern Turkey and northern Syria.
Wild progenitors of the main Neolithic founder crops (einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, barley, lentil, pea, chickpea, bitter vetch, and flax) are found together only in this small core area of the Fertile Crescent.
Lev-Yadun reports that wild chickpea especially is extremely rare, yet it was a staple crop of Neolithic life 10,000 years ago. Agriculture, therefore, probably began in an area where chickpea is native. Archaeological evidence shows that the earliest known farming settlements of the Fertile Crescent were in this core area.
Also, the limited genetic variability of these crops implies that they were domesticated only once — rather than by several different cultures at roughly the same time. Evidence of domesticated crops in the core area dates to about 10,000 years ago, while the earliest signs of farming elsewhere are about 9,300 years ago.
Neolithic sites discovered in the core area indicate that a society with plenty of food thrived there. In sites such as Cayonu, Novali Cori, and Gobekli Tepe, impressive architecture, images, and artifacts have been found. Settlement sites are also larger in this area than many others of the same time in other parts of the Fertile Crescent. ..." (From "The Cradle of Agriculture? New Evidence Moves the World's First Farmers into Turkey" by Reagan Duplisea, articles/ 060100-turkeyfarm.shtml)


Recent genetic studies indicate that at one or more times in human history only a very few individuals were the genetic source, consistent with the historical flood accounts. If one uses the standard 25 years per generation, the flood at some time between 10,500 and 11,500 yr. B.P. would be very roughly between 420 and 460 generations ago. ( The possiblility of increased longevity not being considered.)

"indicate that the action of natural selection against deleterious mutations has been relatively weak over the six-million-year period. This suggests either that the human population has been through one or more severe reductions, or 'bottlenecks', or that only a small proportion of people in any given generation passes its genes on to the next generation – or both. Either way, the effect will be to enhance random sampling effects at the expense of natural selection. The effect of this may have been that, over the millennia, a large number of slightly deleterious mutations have become fixed in the human population." (from "Six million years of degradation",Macmillan Magazines Ltd 1999 - NATURE NEWS SERVICE,

APPENDIX C: a CAUTION concerning C-14 dating

"Plant materials (wood, charcoal, textiles, grain etc.) are generally considered the best sample types for C-14. Apart from contamination, other factors can cause an apparent age. Some species of hardwoods live several centuries, and the C-14 result should represent the date of the rings present in the wood or charcoal sample. Furthermore, dates on plant materials grown in regions of volcanic activity may be older than the true age because of a natural dilution of the local atmospheric C-14 by volcanic gases. Saup‚ et al (1980) investigated the C-14 result of 5730 BP on wood from a mine shaft believed to be Roman or Etruscan. Plants growing in this region of volcanic emissions (Monte Amiata, Tuscany, central Italy) gave fictitious dates of 1805, 2540 and 4350 years BP. Discrepancies of up to 20% between C-14 results and historical data in the Aegean and in Egypt are thought to derive from minor atmospheric variations (Hood 1978).

Divergence of the C-14 age from the historically dateable context is clearly the best, perhaps the only, method of evaluating the effects of contamination. While it is indisputable that C-14 does give results generally harmonious with the expected historical age, the exceptions are manifold, even with optimum sample material and site conditions. In a series from historical sites in Yugoslavia (Srdoc et al 1981), wood samples of the 13th century gave dates of 240 and 580 BP, a 14th-15th century sample gave 940 BP, 1st-2nd century B.C. samples gave 2170, 6030 and 5600 BP, and a Neolithic sample gave 1940 BP. The site of Akrotiri in Greece, destroyed by the Thera eruption of ca. 1550 B.C. and sealed with an ash layer 3m. deep, was thought to be "an ideal source for radiocarbon samples." A recent series of eight samples yielded only four results deemed reliable: two dates "are exceptionally early and do not fit into the archaeological picture," two other dates "are very late and were probably contaminated'' (Weinstein and Michael 1978). All of the samples were grain or charcoal of short-lived wood, and all were found in jars in one room. Regarding the early dates, the authors remarked:

"Why are they so early? Are there special factors or phenomena surrounding the Akrotiri samples of which the radiocarbon specialists are unaware? At present, the series II dates are certainly of little or no value for Minoan chronology."

Betancourt et a1(1978:202) also discuss several dates that are too early or too late in the expected historical chronology, and conclude:

"One or two dates should never be used by themselves to establish a site's chronology. So many dates have proven to be useless because of contamination and other causes that one can only establish a radiocarbon chronology with some degree of confidence if several dates from the same site fall into a consistent pattern that agrees with the stratigraphic sequence."

Possible contaminating agents are many and varied, as described above. Unless there are specific conditions which warrant specialized pretreatment, most laboratories process samples with acid and alkali washes. While this standard pretreatment is usually effective in removing modern contaminants, it may not do so for intrusive materials deposited much earlier. The well-known controversy over the earliest date (pre-10,000 B.C.) from Meadowcroft rockshelter in Pennsylvania hinges on an alleged gradual contamination of the charcoal samples through the injection of dead carbon in the form of coal particles or of organic solubles (Haynes 1980; Dincauze 1981), in spite of the fact that the cave is dry and its earliest cultural layer is well sealed. One of the proponents of contamination, C. Vance Haynes, was a pioneer of chemical pretreatment methods to remove plant debris from C-14 samples. He points out that the dated samples from Meadowcroft are not pure charcoal but "mixtures of finely divided carbon and carbonaceous matter with... a significant percentage of soluble organic matter" (1980:583). Humate extractions were dated some 10,000 years earlier than the residual material in one sample. Cook (1964) investigated apparent charcoal samples from archaeological sites using chemical procedures similar to but stronger than those of C-14 pretreatment, and concluded that many were decayed wood with "considerable amounts of organic matter produced by micro-organisms through past centuries." Others were partially burned (carmelized) wood with considerable infiltration of organic matter.

Another famous early man site in North America, the Old Crow site in the Yukon territory of Canada, also yielded very misleading C-14 results according to a recent study by Nelson (1986). Bone tools from the site had given a date of around 27,000 years B.P. These tools were made of caribou ribs, and Nelson found that the outer portions of the bone had exchanged carbon with the air and ground water. A sample taken from the innermost portion of the bone yielded an age of 1,350 years. As in the Meadowcraft samples, the dating of progressive fractions revealed discrepancies not apparent when the samples were subjected to traditional pretreatment and dated.

My own investigation of a "charcoal" sample dated 8500 BP from a geological context in Hong Kong led to uncertainties inherent in the dates on wood samples from certain depositional environments. The wood was taken from a marine clay 18m. Below sea level; it was jet black as if charred. Laboratory examination (Grisack 1985) revealed however that the cellulose structure did not exhibit the morphological changes associated with charring. Scanning electron microscope study revealed that the pore spaces of the cellulose were almost completely filled. The analytical spectrometer showed the main inorganic substances present were sulfur and iron, with lesser amounts of silicon, aluminium, calcium and sodium. Treatment with 50% hydrochloric acid was effective in removing inorganic materials, but under the SEM the pore spaces remained as occluded with debris as before. The sample also showed very little birefringence under polarized light, whereas wood fibers should be brightly birefringent. "The explanation that suggests itself is that some organic type material has slowly, over a long period of time, been filtering into the lumens of the wood and possibly the cell walls as well, displacing the cellulose or carbon" (Grisack 1985:3). In the opinion of F.H. Kendall, Director of the: Radioisotope Unit at the University of Hong Kong, standard C-14 pretreatment of wood and charcoal samples would not succeed in removing organic material translocated into the lumens and cell walls of the cellulose (personal communication 1985).

It is clear that "more research on dating technology needs to be conducted so that the reliability of dates can be assessed" (Stanford 1982:205). MacDonald(1983:100, 108) believes that the absorption of humates from ground water may have seriously contaminated many dates from the northeastern US with its particularly acidic soils:

"The critical question that demands immediate attention is that of humic acid contamination of C-14 dates, since there is growing evidence that current lab pretreatments are inadequate and that we are confounded by dates that may in some cases be too old and in other cases too young ..."

In sum, it should be obvious to the non-specialist, as it is to most archaeologists and radiocarbon scientists, that possible contamination always represents an element of uncertainty which no amount of laboratory pretreatment or measurement can totally efface. Clusters of congruent dates on different materials, replicated at different sites, eventually allow for a reliable radio-carbon chronology to be established, but there is, quite simply, no possibility of an absolute date on a single sample or artifact." ( from by William Meacham )


"The radiocarbon age scale that would be calculated from first principles (based on the decay rate of the 14C isotope, assuming that 14C was at the same level of abundance as it is at present) is not always reliable, because there have been fluctuations in the rate of production in 14C at the top of the atmosphere. The problems are particularly great at about 10,000 14C y.a., when a large influx of 14C-depleted carbon from the oceans, combined with a decrease in the rate of 14C production at the top of the atmosphere, gives an 'age plateau' such that the same 14C age covers a wide span of real time, about 1,000 years." 14C years ago=>Calibrated ('real') years ago

1,000 => 1,000
2,000 => 2,000
2,500 - 2,800 => 2,600
(sudden shift in atmospheric 14C content)
3,000 => 3,200
4,000 => 4,500
5,000 => 5,900
6,000 => 6,950
7,000 => 7,900
8,000 => 8,900
9,000 => 10,000
10,000 => 11,200 - 12,200
('radiocarbon plateau')
11,000 => 12,900
12,000 => 14,000
13,000 => 14,500
15,000 => 17,000
16,000 => 19,500
17,000 => 21,000
18,000 => 22,500
20,000 => 24,500
25,000 => 28,000
30,000 => 35,000
40,000 => 45,000"


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