Doubt cast on Noah's ark found in Turkey

A group of Chinese and Turkish explorers announced this week they are '99.9 percent' sure of their discovery on Mt. Ararat. While Noah's ark found in Turkey would bolster Bible literalists, an American ark-hunter says the latest discovery could be a hoax.

By , Correspondent

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    This NASA International Space Station file image obtained 28 April, 2004 shows Mount Ararat, the supposed site where Noah's ark ran aground.
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A longtime ark-hunter has serious doubts about this week’s announcement that Noah’s ark was found in eastern Turkey.

A Chinese-Turkish team from Noah's Ark Ministries International held a press conference April 25 in Hong Kong to present their findings and say they were “99 percent sure” that pieces of wood found at above 12,000-feet elevation and dated as 4,800 years old were from the biblical Noah’s ark.

Such a finding would provide evidence for a literal interpretation of the Bible and boost the evangelical Christian worldview in a relatively young Earth that was formed in seven days and where a wrathful God punishes the wicked.

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IN PICTURES: Noah's Ark

But Dr. Randall Price, an evangelical Christian and former member of the Chinese-led team that announced this week’s finding, says the latest purported finding may not withstand closer scrutiny.

"If the world wants to think this is a wonderful discovery, that’s fine. My problem is that, in the end, proper analysis may show this to be a hoax and negatively reflect how gullible Christians can be," he says.

'Difficulties with a number of issues'

Dr. Price, who is director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the conservative Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., was the archaeologist on the Chinese-led team in 2008 when this alleged discovery was first made. He says he has “difficulties with a number of issues related to the evidence at hand.”

Price declined to elaborate. However, a leaked email from Price – which he confirms that he wrote – shows that he has reason to believe that a group of local Kurdish men trucked wood up to the mountain and staged an elaborate hoax for the Chinese team.

A group of Kurdish workers “are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. … During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film,” Price writes in the email.

Price is a longtime searcher himself for the ark. As a member of Noah’s Ark Search LLC, he had gone on a number of expeditions to Mount Ararat.

Price was not the only member to withdraw from the Chinese-led team over questions about their purported finding.

Not good evidence

Dr. John D. Morris, who is president for Dallas’ Institute for Creation Research and has been a consultant to the team since 2005, says he declined an invitation to be a part of this week's press conference in Hong Kong.

“I’m a scientist. I need to have good evidence,” says Dr. Morris. “As of right now, there is not.”

Morris, who is also a fundamentalist Christian, led 13 expeditions to Mount Ararat between 1971 and 1990 as he searched for the ark. He has been in contact with the Chinese-led team for the past decade.

He says their finding is inconclusive and calls for more research. Video available on the team's web site shows the team exploring inside a wooden structure embedded in a sort of ice cave. The wooden walls of one compartment are smooth and curved. Morris says it is almost unfathomable that such heavy materials could be hauled up to 12,000 feet and lodged in the mountain ice without a major operation using heavy machinery.

“I think it would be highly unlikely that anybody could carry wood up. I can’t comprehend that. I don’t think there’s fraud involved. But that is a possibility. And only serious scientific work on-site can resolve that,” Morris said in a telephone interview from Dallas.

The Noah's Ark Ministries International has no contact information on their web site, and the Monitor was unable to track down team members today for further comment. But in the press conference, they appeared to be aware that skeptics may question the findings.

"We are not saying that we are 100 percent certain that what we found is Noah's Ark. No one has ever seen the ark, no one knows what it looks like," said team member Yeung Wing-cheung. "We are only 99 percent certain that it is Noah's Ark based on historical accounts, including the Bible and local beliefs of the people in the area, as well as carbon dating."

Yeung would not reveal the location of the site because he says the team is waiting for the Turkish government to set up an official preservation area to continue their work.

Wood dated 4,800 years old

Morris, Price, and the Chinese-led team are a few of the many who have gone in search of the biblical boat. In the Book of Genesis, God commands Noah to built the massive vessel and bring “every sort [of animal]...male and female ... everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life.” Then a 40-day flood hits.

A 2004 ABC News poll showed that 60 percent of Americans read the story of Noah’s Ark as literally true.

Within that group of believers is a large subsection who believe not in a worldwide flood but rather a regional flood as is mentioned in alternative texts such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. However, a mere regional flood would not send Noah’s ark up 12,000 feet on Mount Ararat.

Yeung told the South China Morning Post that a piece of wood obtained from the site was dated as 4,800 years old by a carbon-dating method in Iran. This matches with the range of years stated in the Bible, suggesting when the vessel was built.

Reinforcing a fundamentalist view

The discovery of Noah’s ark would reinforce a literal interpretation of the Bible, says Claude Mariottini, an Old Testament professor at Northern Baptist Seminary outside Chicago.

“People want to prove the Bible is true. If they can find the ark on Mount Ararat, it proves there was a Noah and a universal flood and it’s all true,” he says.

“If God is a God of truth then what the Bible says must be truth. If the story of Noah is not real, then for many people it puts their faith into question,” says Dr. Mariottini, who believes the story is an allegory for how God is sovereign over creation and punishes sin.

The debate over evolution and creationism has increasingly called for hard evidence and empirical proof. And Christians have responded.

“Modern science has challenged the Biblical narrative. For people who want to take the Bible literally, it drives them to look for this empirical evidence,” says Carlos M. N. Eire, a professor of history and religious studies at Yale University, in New Haven, Conn.

“It’s not just about Christians, it’s about human nature,” adds Dr. Eire. “It’s a very deep human instinct to search for truth in whatever you believe in and having physical contact with that.”

Finding the ark 'would not prove anything'

If this is Noah's ark, it's not likely to drastically alter the perspectives of theists or atheists, says Eire. Fundamentalists would remain committed to a literal interpretation of the Bible while non-believers would continue to demand more evidence. Christians believe out of faith, not evidence, says Dr. Morris of the Institute for Creation Research.

“It would not prove anything to me,” says Morris. “My faith is not in Noah’s ark. But it would be an obvious physical confirmation based on what I believe.”

The finding could divide Christians themselves, he adds, and provide fodder for evangelicals who believe that God flooded the entire world and, except Noah's family, killed off all humans because of their evilness. “To recognize that God judges sin and that God will judge their sin is something [some Christians] would just as soon not believe in.”

Previous expeditions have also come back from Mount Ararat with evidence of Noah’s ark. French explorer Fernand Navarra found a five-foot section of the ark that was originally dated at 5,000 years old, though later shown to be only 500 to 750 years old.

“This has happened before,” says Eire. “It will probably keep happening again.”

IN PICTURES: Noah's Ark

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