Black Sea Culture, Crucible of the Gods, National Geographic Magazine

The Black Sea, lying along the northern border of present-day Turkey, was the end of the world for the ancient seafaring Greeks. This was where Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock, and when the Greeks first began exploring this area they were surprised to find humans, not gods, staring back at them.

During the last ice age the Black Sea was a low-lying body of freshwater, cut off from the Sea of Marmara, the Aegean and the Mediterranean, by a narrow land mass called the Bosporus. When the ice age ended the Black Sea remained protected as ocean levels rose, but when the water finally breached the Bosporus valley the incoming deluge was similar to ten Niagara falls. Stories of people …

Black Sea Culture, Crucible of the Gods, National Geographic Magazine

The Black Sea, lying along the northern border of present-day Turkey, was the end of the world for the ancient seafaring Greeks. This was where Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock, and when the Greeks first began exploring this area they were surprised to find humans, not gods, staring back at them.

During the last ice age the Black Sea was a low-lying body of freshwater, cut off from the Sea of Marmara, the Aegean and the Mediterranean, by a narrow land mass called the Bosporus. When the ice age ended the Black Sea remained protected as ocean levels rose, but when the water finally breached the Bosporus valley the incoming deluge was similar to ten Niagara falls. Stories of people fleeing this massive flooding are the origins of the epic myths of Gilgamesh and Noah’s flood.

The present day tribal culture in the mountainous coastal areas south of the Caucasian mountains in Georgia and north of the Pontic Alps in Turkey hasn’t changed much in the last 3,300 years.

The migration from summer fishing to highland shepherding has always been a part of the culture. Mountain homes are called Yaylas (YIY-luz), and most families have more than one. Families fish at the coast, but as the temperatures rise, they move to a succession of homes higher in the mountain range. These homes are community property and were bequeathed during the Ottoman period.

Simple, physical geography preserves this unique collection of societies including the Abkhaz, Mingrelian, Laz, Cepni, Oguz, Rum, Hemsin, Circassian and Svans, who are squeezed into pockets along a narrow area of rugged terrain between the Black Sea and the steep coastal mountains.

Until just a few years before these photos were taken, Svans laid sheepskins in glacial streams to catch heavier particles of gold. These are the people of the Golden Fleece, the quest object of the mythic Jason and the Argonauts, and of the real seafaring Greeks.

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