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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Has Noah's Ark Been Discovered in Turkey?

I must confess, I was a bit excited to see video footage this week of a team of Chinese mountaineers descending into what they were pretty sure was the Ark of Noah. I couldn't understand the Chinese narration, but the 'clunk' of them knocking on wood deep inside a glacier was unmistakable.

Skeptics of the Bible have made no attempt to hide their disdain at the announcement of this discovery, and among media outlets it's pretty well universal. The most objective account I've found so far--and that's not necessarily saying much--was in today's Time Magazine. I quote as follows:
To a score of marching drums and pipes, we see the expedition trudge across a snowy expanse and up the mountain. They camp on a hilly bluff, the sun setting over the Anatolian hinterland below. Moments later, we've gone inside a dark cave and watch members of the expedition inspect what appears to be a solid wooden wall, entombed within layers of glacial ice and volcanic rock. A gnarled beam runs suspended from one part of the cavern to another. There's straw and bits of old rope on the ground; a structure is taking shape. What is it? According to the explorers, it's Noah's Ark, literally frozen in time.

This footage of the alleged discovery of the Biblical vessel, perched 4,000 m (more than 12,000 ft) up on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey, was first shown to journalists on Apr. 25 at a press conference in a fancy boutique hotel in Hong Kong. On hand were members of the team, composed largely of Hong Kong-based evangelicals, an art historian, and a handful of Turkish academics and government officials. They displayed specimens of objects recovered from the supposed Ark, which the team says they encountered in seven dismembered compartments within the mountain: on show are pieces of petrified wood allegedly carbon-dated at 4,800-years-old, a chunk of crystal and a cluster of seed-like pellets. "There is a tremendous amount of evidence that this structure is the Ark of Noah," said Gerrit Aalten, a Dutch researcher of Ark lore enlisted to evaluate the team's findings.

I'm not sure what a fancy boutique hotel is, but it apparently was mentioned to hint at an unscientific approach for which Ishaan Tharoor does fairly well to hide his disdain. At any rate, I willingly number myself among those who are excited by this find, but not because it validates any belief system I might have. I'm excited about it because, as someone whose belief system allows for things like Noah's Ark to exist, I find it fascinating that someone finally appears to have found it, and made it out alive with the video to prove it.

It's not that many people beforehand haven't claimed to have found the ark, or even to have walked inside it or actually taken pictures of it. But a strange fate has always befallen such exhibitions, or those who've made them: the film has been confiscated, or declared Top Secret, or lost in a landslide, or resulted in the photographer's untimely execution--et cetera. This time, the team (wisely, I think) waited until they had made three successful trips to the same artifact: apparently, the first time to find it, the second to enter it, and the third to return with video and Arktifacts. Then they waited for the results of their scientific testing to come back before finally revealing to the world what they had been doing for the past three years. And they still held back a little: the actual location is not being released, pending the area being put in a protective zone by either Turkey or the United Nations.

I'll leave the technical questions as to the validity of this discovery claim to others, although 'others' don't appear to be addressing the important questions right now. That, I'm sure, will come in time. What I'd like to address are the eschatological implications. As someone who has been an armchair Arkeologist for several decades, I believe I'm as qualified to address these as anybody.

First of all, I should point out that Christians--and I happen to be one--don't hold any sort of copyright on Noah's Ark. Yes, granted it is directly mentioned in our Scriptures, the New Testament--a total of four times, with another four references to Noah that don't specifically mention the ark. In fact, the flood of Noah was referred to very matter-of-factly as history by Jesus, Paul, and Peter. But that doesn't stop people who claim to be followers of Jesus from disbelieving that there ever was a worldwide flood survived only by Noah and his seven family members. Those who do believe this are usually termed 'fundamentalists', or at best 'evangelicals'.

But the main story of Noah and his ark is found in the Jewish Scriptures, the Torah--which is also holy to the Samaritan sect. Jewish tradition has embellished the biblical account with such details as that Adam's mummy was carried in the ark to divide the males on the one side from the females on the other side. Muslims, for their part, incorporate some of the biblical account into their Scriptures, but with many differences--such as that the Ark came down in territory closer to the Arab heartland than Armenia. But Christians don't have any unique beliefs about the Ark, so there's really no intrinsic reason why they should hold a corner on modern Arkeology.

There are several things that make this particular expedition so interesting. For one, it was the first to be undertaken with the cooperation and even presence of Turkish officials. For another, it was the first to make it back to the Ark site three years in succession. And lastly, it was the first to bring back still and video photos of the ark in situ.

I also think it rather interesting that it was not a team of Westerners who had the privilege of finally locating the ark's resting place right down to the longitudinal second. The first news of this groundbreaking geographical discovery came not in English, but Chinese. And as far as I know, this is the first time an Asian-only team has even searched Mt. Ararat for the ark.

Now, having noted what actually has happened, and what I find interesting about it, I'd like to engage in a little speculation. I should note once again that nothing in my belief system requires there to be any evidence of an ark on Mt. Ararat or any other mountain. At worst, discovery of a huge multi-chambered wooden structure that fits in with Islamic, Manichean, or Yezidi belief, but not the biblical account, would seriously shake my faith in the Bible, and would probably even be capable of overturning it. But finding what matches the biblical description (but not those of other religions), located where the Bible (but not other religions' scriptures) puts it, and in a position where it could not possibly have arrived short of a global flood, only confirms what I already believe. What follows, though, is at this point only theory.

I find two things about the account of the Ark in Genesis extremely interesting:

1) God told Noah to coat the Ark with pitch, both within and without.

2) The ark came down on what is now one of the highest mountains in the Middle East, at a latitude where it would be snow-covered year-round.

Both of these have worked to preserve the Ark for over 4000 years, and there's no reason why, under such conditions, it might not take another 4000 years for the glacier that entombs it to reach the base of the mountain. God seems to have intended both for the Ark to be preserved, and to keep it fairly inaccessible into the foreseeable future. That's why I'm so excited to be living at a time when, it appears, the Ark will finally be made accessible. Note that the GPS equipment necessary to pinpoint the Ark's changing location has only existed for a couple of decades, and the global rise in temperature over these same decades has made it finally possible to get down through the ice into the Ark itself. We do appear to be at some crucial juncture of history.

I should note at this time that Answers in Genesis has finally weighed in on the report. I'm a bit disappointed by their response:
Adding to our skepticism about the find is (as we have stated before) that the volcanic activity on the mountains of Ararat as well as several earthquakes make it doubtful that even parts of a wooden structure could have survived for over 4,300 years. Furthermore, much of the wood would have most likely been scavenged right after the Flood to erect forms of shelter and to build fires (in a cold mountainous region). Also, as we look at the photos of this latest proposed Ark, we do not see evidence of the wood being coated with pitch (as Genesis 6:14 indicates). Other items seen in the photos are suspicious-looking as well; we will have more to say about our doubts on Saturday’s posting.
AIG are buying right into the secular mindset on this, in my opinion. Of course the Ark could have survived for over 4300 years! A man entombed in an alpine glacier, along with his clothes, tools, and intestinal parasites, is said to have survived longer than that! And as for scavenging the Ark for building material, how ridiculous! The most sensible place to find shelter in the immediate aftermath of the Flood was on the Ark itself. And it would have been preposterous to go to all the work of ripping 60-foot beams of lumber off the ark to carry them off and build something with them far below the tree line. In the process of going forth and replenishing the earth, Noah and his descendants would have had no use for lumber; tents would have been more like it. If the mountainous region was indeed so cold and inhospitable, no one would have stayed near the ark; they would have sought lower altitude immediately.

April 30 Update
A couple of things have come out in the news that don't look so good for the Ark Discovery Story. First of all, Turkish Culture and Tourism Minister Ertugrul Gunay has announced an investigation. Apparently the whole search had been conducted without his permission. Secondly, it turns out that Hong Kong businessman Andrew Yuen Man-Fai was involved in the project. Since he owns a major interest in Hong Kong's full-size model of the Ark--a major tourist attraction--any excitement over this discovery could hardly fail to reward him financially, even if it turns out to have been nothing more than a publicity stunt.

Another update (I'm not editing anything above, just adding things as they come in)
It turns out that NAMI used a press conference to publicize their first visit to the Ark in 2007.

Here's an updated website that pretty much lays out the case for fraud. Not only is this yet another disappointment for those who thought the Ark had finally been found, but it's further fuel for the derision that is sure to greet any authentic discovery once it is made.

So, to answer once again the question of the title: No.


  1. There is mention of the ark in this area in the Qur'an (muslim, which i am by the way) it would be exciting to see what this would uncover..

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