The Archaeological Search for Noah’s Ark
By Randall Price
As a science, archaeology seeks to reconstruct the remains of ancient civilization. The sources for archaeology include historical literary documents and the excavated artifacts from ancient sites. With respect to Noah’s Ark, the historical document is the Bible, which describes both the appearance of the ship and identifies the location of its landing. However, to date, no conclusive evidence of the remains of the ship have been found, although there are interesting reports of ancient and contemporary sightings and intriguing new satellite imagery that reveals Ark-sized anomalies on Mount Ararat. For this reason, the archaeological search for the Ark has been limited to comparing the eyewitness accounts and surveying prospective sites for the Ark’s final resting place.
One difficulty complicating the search, in addition to local political and religious prohibitions, has been the lack of consensus on exactly what mountain (or even country) this occurred. The Bible simply states that “the Ark rested on the mountains of Ararat,” Genesis 8:4), leaving open the option of a number of mountains in the region once known as Uratu (“Ararat”). Consequently, researchers have primarily located the biblical site in some part of eastern Turkey, although one site has recently been explored in modern-day Iran.
One site, known as Cudi Dagh (“Mount Judi”), is a 6,853-foot mountain in the Taurus Range in southeastern Turkey (near the Syrian and Iraqi borders), has been traditionally identified as “Mount Aarat” and associated with the story of Noah’s Ark for millennia, especially in ancient Jewish literature and the Qur’an, although it also appears in the writings of the early Church Fathers. Until the last century a stone structure called Sefinet Nebi Nuh (“the ship of Noah”) was visited by Kurdish pilgrims at the beginning of each summer. According to local accounts, the remains of the Ark that existed above ground were systematically removed over the centuries by pilgrims, including monks who used the wood to built a monastery. However, in April 1953, German geologist Dr. Friedrich Bender investigated the site and took core samples of the wood that remained in the soil that yielded a C-14 date of 6,500 years. This has led many to believe that more of the ship may remain buried deep within the ground. While some recent exploration of this site has occurred, including a nearby site known as “the Tomb of Noah,” the Turkish government has repeatedly hindered planned scientific expeditions.
Also appearing in the historical record from earliest times is another site, the 16,945-foot (5,165 meter) volcanic mountain in northeastern Turkey (near the border with Armenia) known, traditionally as Agri-Dagh (“Mount Ararat”). Back in the 5th century B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus, known as the “father of history,” stated that religious people had for a long time before been making pilgrimages to this mountain because of their belief that Noah’s Ark had landed there. Still today, the local Armenian tribes that occupy the site maintain a religious conviction that the mountain is the sacred resting place of the Ark. One such local, George Hagopian (born c. 1904-1906), testified to having visited the remains of the Ark and provided detailed sketches. Following this lead, Ark-Researcher Eryl Cummings in the 1940’s began collecting other eyewitness accounts, including that of former U.S. Army sergeant Ed Davis, who claimed that in the summer of 1943 he was taken to see Noah’s Ark by the Kurdish tribal leader Abas-Abas and seven of his sons. His account and sketches matched that of Hagopian, resulting in numerous expeditions to the mountain’s Ahora Gorge region, the site believed to have been identified by the two men. These explorations, including one by the late Apollo astronaut Jim Irwin, failed to find any traces of the Ark, though some explorers like anthropologist and president of the Foundation for International Biblical Exploration and Research Don Shockey, believed their examination verified it as the target site. Much of the difficulty for discovery, says geologist Dr. John Morris, President of the Institute for Creation Research (who has climbed the mountain some 13 times), is the constant changes that affect the terrain from winter snows, shifting glaciers, and rock and ice avalanches.
Even though climatic and other conditions have prevented access to this site for detailed field survey and exploration, new technology has allowed archaeological penetration from space. In 1993 declassified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Keyhole-9 satellite images of Mount Ararat (taken on Dec. 20, 1973) revealed what has since been termed the “Ararat anomaly.” Using similar remote sensing equipment, NASA scientists uncovered the more than 1,000 year-old Mayan ruins hidden in the rainforests of Central America. Unlike previous photos from aircraft that have had deceptive shadows that gave false indications of structures beneath the ice and snow, radar satellite images are not the result of optical scans, but radio beams of solid structures, thus eliminating the effect of shadows. The “Ararat anomaly” rests at 15,300 feet (4,663 meters) on the northwest corner of Mount Ararat’s Western Plateau, and is nearly submerged in glacial ice. Ever since, Porcher Taylor, a national security analyst and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. has been examining the anomaly. He has obtained even greater high-resolution images taken by GeoEye's Ikonos spacecraft, Canada's Radarsat 1, and DigitalGlobe's QuickBird satellite. These images have been further analyzed by Rod Franz, Training Manager for Imagery Analysis with Las Vegas-based SunTek Media Group, an intelligence community/Pentagon contractor who for 25 years served as a military intelligence imagery analyst. Using special imagery analyst software that measures each pixel in the satellite images the anomaly’s length he has determined it to be 1,015 feet (309 meters), very close to the biblical dimensions for the Ark of 300 cubits by 50 cubits. Although it is possible that the anomaly is a natural rock formation, the surrounding strato-volcanic rock has a rugged texture while it has a smooth texture and appears to be made of a different substance. Another group of Ark-Researchers, which includes Don Shockey, have employed similar advanced satellite technology to identify a structure nearly 100 feet below the glacieral ice. The hope is that one of the groups which believe they have pinpointed the Ark will be able to gain official access to archaeologically excavate the site with conclusive scientific results for other experts to examine.
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Randall Price holds a Th.M. in Old Testament and Hebrew from Dallas Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas. He is President of World of the Bible Ministries, Inc. (www.worldofthebible.com) and was director of the Qumran Plateau Archaeological Excavation (site of the Dead Sea Scrolls) in Israel from 2002-2006. He is author of the forthcoming book by Harvest House Publishers Searching for Noah’s Ark.
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