This article is from
Creation 43(4):52, October 2021

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Archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley’s flood

A false claim that damaged biblical credibility


Woolley in Syria, 1912

In 1929, the famed British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley (1880–1960) caught the world’s attention when he announced that he had found evidence confirming Noah’s Flood. Excavating at Ur of the Chaldees in Mesopotamia, near the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, at a depth of about 12 metres (40 ft) he found a 3-metre (10 ft) layer of silt and sand that did not contain any human artefacts.1,2

There was evidence of human occupation in the layer above the ‘flood’ layer as well as the layer below, which he said were artefacts from the pre-Flood civilization. Stephen Langton announced a few months later that he had found a similar layer of silt at Kish, a few hundred kilometres to the north.3 And a third flood stratum was later excavated at Shuruppak on the Euphrates between Ur and Kish.

These finds, especially Woolley’s first announcement in 1929, set the news services abuzz. Many Christians were ecstatic that archaeologists had finally confirmed one of the stories in the Bible as true.

But how could we check whether Woolley’s flood was indeed Noah’s Flood? We simply compare the characteristics of his flood with the description of Noah’s Flood in the Bible. We notice that Woolley described his flood as a local affair affecting an area perhaps 650 kilometres long and 150 kilometres wide (400 × 100 miles). It was not global as the Bible describes. Woolley’s flood would have covered only the low-lying area of the lower valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, not the highest mountains, as the Bible says. In Woolley’s flood, no ark was needed, no animals (and certainly not birds) were threatened with extinction, and only a few of the world’s people would have perished. Whatever Woolley found, it was not the biblical Flood.

Woolley was aware of this discrepancy, but he equated the flood layer with the Babylonian Gilgamesh flood story, from which he believed the biblical story was derived (although it was the other way round4). He claimed that for the occupants of the valley, that was their whole world! In other words, Woolley’s claim could only be upheld by disregarding the clear description of the Flood in the Bible.

Woolley caught the public’s attention and his idea was very popular at the time. It found its way into many books and even Bible commentaries. But later it was discovered that the flood deposits at the different sites did not occur at the same time, because the pottery did not match. Furthermore, it was found the flood deposit at Ur did not even cover the whole town.5 After this, Woolley’s Flood waned greatly in its significance, but his ideas still appear in articles from time to time.

This affair with Woolley’s mud layer at Ur makes a point. People are quick to accept what scientists claim without checking seriously against the biblical record. It is not as if it is difficult to obtain a copy of the Bible and read the three relevant chapters. Secular academics and geologists are enthusiastic about connecting Noah’s flood to a local inundation because it poses no threat to their philosophy of uniformitarianism. But when we take the biblical record seriously, we can evaluate such claims easily and quickly.

Posted on homepage: 5 December 2022

References and notes

  1. MacDonald, D., The Flood: Mesopotamian Archaeological Evidence, Creation Evolution Journal 8(2):14–20, 1988. Return to text.
  2. Woolley, C.L., Ur of the Chaldees: A Record of Seven Years of Excavation, Ernest Benn Ltd., 1929; cited in: Bradshaw, R.I., The Flood; biblicalstudies.org.uk, 2010. Return to text.
  3. Whitcomb, J.C. and Morris, H.M., The Genesis Flood: The Biblical Record and Its Scientific Implications, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, pp. 109–111, 1961. Return to text.
  4. Adamthwaite, M.R., Gilgamesh and the biblical Flood (2 parts), J. Creation 28(2):83–88; 28(3):80–85, 2014; creation.com/gilg-1, creation.com/gilg-2. Return to text.
  5. Roth, A.R., Origins: Linking Science and Scripture, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Hagersotwn, MD, p. 305, 1998. Return to text.

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How Noah's Flood Shaped Our Earth
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