Mediterranean Mystery

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When the land bridge connecting Europe and Africa at the Straits of Gibraltar finally gave way it would have created a wave of unimaginable proportions.

Our feature also tells how the Mediterranean mysteriously dried out at least five or six times

The Mediterranean Sea is the subject of one of the greatest mysteries on Earth. Geologists have proved that over the course of time the Mediterranean has frequently come to the point of drying up completely.

Evidence for this can be found in the vast layers of salt deposits discovered lying beneath the bed of this enigmatic sea. The very dense and numerous evaporite layers sandwiched between marine sediments laid down in deep water prove that since deepest antiquity the Mediterranean must have dried up at least five or six times.

Fertile conditions.

At the height of this desiccation the Mediterranean basin would have resembled a particularly arid desert, leaving only tiny lakes and rivers running down from bordering mountain ranges. However these sterile conditions would certainly not have applied to the entire Mediterranean Basin. Indeed there is no reason why localities close to main rivers and fresh water lakes could not have developed comparatively fertile conditions. This would have provided ideal conditions for life to flourish and it is highly probable that the Mediterranean Basin once held a particularly rich variety of flora and fauna.

Idyllic Nile Delta

In the vicinity of the Nile Delta there is likely to have been a resplendent wealth of life situated around lush valleys and river branches providing a thriving and endurable eco system lasting for perhaps thousands of years. Yet any life that found any kind of foothold here was ultimately doomed to disaster. The geology of the Mediterranean meant that every so often the entire basin would dramatically fill up with sea water extinguishing all life to be found there.

Repeating disaster.

Experts have discovered that over the course of millions of years the cycle of a dried up and fertile Mediterranean giving way to the waters of a flooding sea occurred at least five or six times and possibly more. In other words this was a recurring source of catastrophe with a long periodicity that operated over the course of millions of years.

Rising sea levels.

But what exactly was it that caused the flooding of the Mediterranean and its subsequent drying out ? One of the most frequently advanced explanations is a rising and falling in the level of the worlds oceans. The Mediterranean is almost entirely land locked and fed only by water pouring through the relatively narrow Straits of Gibraltar. Here at the very mouth of the Mediterranean ( see pic below )the waters are comparatively shallow, forming a narrow sill between Africa and Europe. Many actually believe this was the point of an ancient land bridge spanning the two continents.

It is also believed that on numerous occasions world ocean levels rose to a level that they poured over the sill of the Straits of Gibraltar in a cascade of water that flooded everything for nearly three thousand miles. Later when ocean levels receded the Mediterranean was effectively cut off as an inland lake. With insufficient water to make up for what was lost through evaporation the whole Mediterranean literally evaporated to nothing.

Much vaster sea.

Some theories suggest that at various times in its history the Mediterranean was much vaster than today. They believe that rising water levels meant that water from the Atlantic Ocean also swept into the Mediterranean Basin across parts of the Sahara Desert leaving only the highest mountains above water. These theories suggest that the sand of the desert we see now was actually the bed of a former sea.

Unbelievable catastrophe.

If the theory of an expanded Mediterranean that stretched across the Sahara is true then it may be that this was the principal source of Mediterranean water at that time. That is one that came not through the Straits of Gibraltar, but a more circuitous route now blocked. In this scenario  the final fracturing of the land bridge between Europe and Africa may have been a much later event, and undoubtedly represented a catastrophe of unbelievable proportions.

When this land bridge gave way it would have released countless trillions of tons of water into the Mediterranean Basin creating devastating waves possibly even a mile or more in height. These would quickly have poured across the arid dried up sea bottom as well as devouring more fertile regions in a cataclysmic wall of water and clash of waves whose roar would have been heard for hundreds of miles.

It is possible that the force of the waves would have overflowed the Mediterranean Basin completely and carried on over parts of the Middle East, even as far as Mesopotamia in what is today Iraq.

When did it happen?

But when did this all happen? Here it has to be realised that the time periods between each flooding and subsequent drying up of the Mediterranean were colossal. This was a process that occurred over many millions of years and pinning down the sequences involved is far from easy. However the one period we can be reasonably certain about occurred during the very early years of the Miocene Epoch around 5 million years ago.

Deep drilling studies revealed the Mediterranean was almost dry at this time. This was an age when global temperatures were higher than today creating lush grasslands and savannas. Yet this was also a determinative period that was soon to change with the onset of the first of the ice ages during the Pliocene Epoch. This led to widespread extinction’s, and a falling sea level cutting off the Mediterranean completely. What is significant is that in geological terms the Pliocene Epoch can be classified as relatively recent times, and played a major part in shaping the world of today.

Were our ancestors involved?

One major question begs to be answered: Were any of our early ancestors affected in the long term rise and fall of the Mediterranean – a repeating disaster that affected a very large area. It is quite possible for instance that our very early ancestors inhabited large portions of what is now the sea bed of the Mediterranean. Significantly the origins of Man are widely believed to have occurred in Africa and during the course of outward migration it is possible and even likely that some groups did occupy regions of the Mediterranean now miles beneath water.

Neanderthal Man.

The Mediterranean flooding may even account for the sudden disappearance of Neanderthal Man who disappeared from the fossil record around 40,000 years ago. What is certain however is that the scale of the disaster as the waters came flooding in to cover the Mediterranean Basin was of a magnitude difficult to comprehend.

Evidence of this can be found in the great quantities of fossils discovered on numerous Mediterranean islands – evidence of some great herding together in a shrinking environment that very quickly became too small to support life. These finds are sometimes in such colossal quantities as to permit modern commercial extraction and exploitation. Particularly revealing was that the bone assemblages of the fossils discovered were of groups almost exclusively to be found in Africa.

Drowned Nile Valley.

Yet more evidence of a catastrophe in this approximate period is the discovery of a drowned valley beneath the waters of Aswan in Egypt. Evidence of a submerged and filled over canyon were discovered while borings were being made for the construction of the Aswan Dam. In some places this canyon was said to be over a 1000 feet deep and is estimated to have been filled over by marine mud deposits around five and a half million years ago.

Sudden or gradual filling?

Some authorities are divided as to whether the culmination of each drying of the Mediterranean was followed by a sudden and mountainous inpouring of Atlantic water or whether it was a far more sedate process. The former scenario involves one mega scale disaster with waves over a mile in height.

On the other hand the latter scenario says this rewatering of the Mediterranean Basin took hundreds if not thousands of years of slow inflow over the sill separating Europe and Africa. Our own preference is for a combination of the two ideas. To begin with perhaps the waters did just trickle into the Mediterranean Basin with little impact. But this could hardly have led to the filling of the entire Mediterranean because so much would have been lost to evaporation. This is why we believe that on each occasion the re-flooding of the Mediterranean eventually came in the form of a huge wall of water whose dimensions would have been truly awesome. A catastrophic event that would have instantly wiped out all life in front of it.

Atlantis and the Biblical Flood.

Inevitably a calamity on the scale outlined above is bound to draw parallels with Biblical accounts of the flood – echoes of which are to be found in writings and cultural traditions throughout the world. Then there are obvious similarities to Plato’s account of the demise of Atlantis. Some are bound to argue that perhaps Atlantis was to be found as a verdant paradise at the bottom of what is now the Mediterranean Sea. A world destroyed without trace once the Atlantic waters came thundering in through the Straits of Gibraltar.

Did Atlantis exist?

See our special feature on the topic.

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