A post on Twitter by one of the Trowelblazers team re-ignited my interest in a pet theory of mine which I’ve been mulling on and off since my aborted Maritime Geography undergrad course many years ago.

Now that modern media gives me the opportunity I might as well float it for anyone with an even vaguely enquiring mind.

Firstly my hypotheses have probably been tested ad-infinitum in academic publications that I’ve never had the opportunity to read, or even more likely dismissed as hogwash by people more knowledgeable than I. I will further add that I’m just a bored geographer whose glittering career in this area was largely thwarted by other activities.

Anyway, here’s the question: What exactly is at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea? Well… a great many ships obviously, but what else?

Being a bit churchy back then – something long since grown out of – I found myself contemplating the books of Genesis and Exodus and found stories such as the Great Flood and the Red Sea Crossing quite interesting. Looking at them in the light of what we were beginning to understand about climate change (this was the early nineties) I wondered whether it would be possible to explain some of these miracles through sea level change.

However the Bible is just one set of stories. Legend is littered with stories of great floods such as the Deucalion of Greek legend and Atlantis; together with numerous others originating in a variety of cultures.

So what if we assume these floods occurred? I am a great believer that if you have a number of unconnected sources, however unproven, telling you much the same thing then there is probably at least the seed of some truth in them.

My theory goes like this: Although most of the Mediterranean is oceanic it is shallower than both the Atlantic and Indian oceans. It also covers large areas of continental shelf especially in the Adriatic but generally around the coastal areas and islands as you’d expect. What if during the last glaciation much of that was dry land; let’s be extravagant and say down to the -500m contour with a freshwater sea at its centre. That’s a lot of land. What if it was quite fertile and well drained with a reasonably temperate climate nicely suited to human habitation? Imagine the early civilisations which might develop in this land of plenty.

But there’s a snag. The ice sheets are melting and the neighbouring oceans beyond Gibraltar and the Red Sea are getting higher until they rise over the barriers at either end, and start to spill over into the Mediterranean Sea. This would lead to the gradual inundation of settlements and farm land; people would be forced back to higher ground. Gradually.

So what if the process wasn’t gradual? What if the Strait of Gibraltar wasn’t a strait at all back then but a natural dam? What if that dam suddenly and catastrophically ruptured under the weight of water behind it? There would be potential for a rapid flood event which wiped out civilisations. Atlantis would probably be one of the first to be destroyed before the waters reached biblical territory further east. How long would it take? Weeks? Days? Hours? Probably not enough time for people to escape from most of those civilisations.

We could imagine that the bulk of civilisation was wiped out permanently in a very short timeframe. A few stragglers with easy access to high ground (or arcs) might escape to tell the story, but their state of development would be set back greatly by the loss of their national infrastructures. Indeed most of them would be among the least affluent and developed of their epoch; farming the poorest lands on the slopes of what we now know as Europe and Africa. They would tell tales of that flood and those tales would become legend.

The theory which prompted this piece suggested that people inhabited the (dry) Adriatic in order to escape from the ice sheets further north. My theory is the obverse of that; they colonised northern Europe to escape from ever rising sea levels fearing another catastrophic flood. But it is just a theory. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to test it further but maybe someone else will one day.

It would be interesting to know more about what – if anything – is down there.