Two members of the search team that claims to have found Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat in Turkey responded to skepticism by saying that there is no plausible explanation for what they found other than it is the fabled biblical boat that weathered a storm that raged 40 days and 40 nights and flooded the entire Earth.
Noah's Ark Ministries International (NAMI) held a press conference April 25 in Hong Kong to present their findings and say they were “99.9 percent sure” that a wooden structure found at a 12,000-ft. elevation and dated as 4,800 years old was Noah’s Ark.
A flood massive enough to float a boat to the top of Mount Ararat bucks against geologic studies that show no evidence of a worldwide flood that would also have wiped out all plants, animals, and most traces of human civilization. Even prominent fundamentalist Christians who do believe in a worldwide flood have cast doubt on the latest purported discovery.
But members of the Chinese-Turkish team stood by their finding.
“How can a ship be on a mountain?” Yeung Wing-cheung, one of six team members who entered the structure on Mount Ararat last October, told the Monitor today by telephone from Hong Kong.
“The only record of a wooden structure on Mount Ararat is Noah’s Ark," Clara Wei, the team coordinator, also said today by telephone from Beijing. "So up to now I believe this is the most probable explanation. We don’t have another explanation."
It's not a hoax
While both say more research is necessary, they rebutted critics who say that the finding was a hoax. NAMI is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Media Evangelism Limited, founded in 1989 to publish multimedia geared toward evangelizing.
“We don’t have anything to hide,” says Mrs. Wei. She says that massive wooden planks, some 20 meters long, were found in wooden rooms and hallways buried in the ice atop Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey. People could not carry such heavy wood to such a height, nor can vehicles access such a remote location on the mountain. A video of the exploration shows team members wearing crampons and trekking through snow to reach the site.
“You can hire horses to carry bags, but they cannot balance themselves with 20-meter-long timber,” says Wei, adding that there was no cultural evidence – such as pottery – that the structure was a former house or church.
Turkish officials from Agri Province, the location of Mount Ararat, also attended this week’s press conference in Hong Kong. Lieutenant governor Murat Güven and Cultural Ministries Director Muhsin Bulut, both provincial officials, believe the discovery is likely Noah’s Ark, according to the announcement posted on the team's website.
“The local government thinks this is Noah’s Ark,” Mr. Yeung says.
Over the decades, many explorers have hunted for Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat, and a number claimed to find the boat.
Russian World War I aviator Vladimir Roskovitsky claimed to see a large ship resting high on Mount Ararat in 1917. The astronaut James Irwin led a number of disappointing expeditions to Mt. Ararat between 1982 and 1986. French industrialist Fernand Navarra ascended Ararat in 1955, recovering a piece of oak initially dated 5,000 years old; more accurate carbon dating later showed it in the range of A.D. 620 to A.D. 90.
However, NAMI claims that their expedition was the first to invest several years of effort with the locals. Starting in 2004, NAMI spent several months every year at the mountain conducting searches while also maintaining contact with local fixers. What began as a documentary about the legend of Noah’s Ark turned into their own obsession with finding the mythic vessel when a local guide by the name of Parasut told them in mid-2008 that he knew the boat’s location. One team member, Panda Lee, visited the location that October.
Wei says bad weather prevented NAMI from reaching the site again until October 2009, this time with a three-person film crew. They took video and rock and wood samples, which they then sent to a university in Tehran, Iran – she declined to reveal which one – for radiocarbon dating. This showed the wood to be 4,800 years old, Wei says. The team then spent several months speaking with Turkish officials and researchers before holding this week’s press conference in Hong Kong, which set off a firestorm of media reports on major outlets such as Fox News and Good Morning America.
Team member who quit
Initially, prominent ark-hunter Randall Price, an evangelical Christian and professor at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., was also a member of the team. He quit, however, over doubts about Parasut’s honesty, and has since concluded that the site is an elaborate "hoax." Mr. Price has questioned why Parasut and NAMI refuse to reveal the location of the finding.
Yeung and Wei say that this could open the site to pillaging.
While ark-hunting has become an industry of sorts in southeastern Turkey, with a number of locals on hand to show visitors where to find the ark, Wei insists their guide is trustworthy and only wants to bring attention to his discovery on the mountain.
“He thinks we have the power to bring this to the world. He knows we can do that for him,” she says.
Wei and Yeung both declined the reveal the amount of money NAMI spent searching for the ark. Yeung said it came from private donors in Hong Kong and Australia.
Open to interpretation
Creationists, like many of those searching for the ark, have long sought evidence of Noah's Ark to reaffirm their belief that God created the world in seven days and judges the wicked, as when the world was destroyed in a flood that spared only Noah and his family.
“If Noah built a real solid boat just like you or I could build a solid boat, and traveled over a stormy sea just like you or I could travel over a stormy sea, and landed on solid ground just like you or I could land on solid ground, if all that could be affirmed, it would also affirm the moral theories that they’re interested in,” says Christopher Toumey, an anthropology professor at the University of South Carolina.
The story of an ancient flood is more ancient than Genesis, says Professor Toumey. A passage from the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh, among the world's oldest known literature, tells of a man named Ziusudra surviving a great flood. The Babylonian version of that story says Utnapishtum survives the flood. The plot was reworked and the name again changed, this time to Noah, in the version in the book of Genesis.
As such, Toumey says the discovery of Noah's Ark may not necessarily prove useful to evangelical Christians.
“Obviously they want it to affirm the story of Noah. It could just as easily affirm the story of Ziusudra or Utnapishtum,” Toumey told the Monitor.
“How did these objects get there [to Hong Kong] and under whose authority were the officials present there? We are investigating this,” Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay said, according to local newspaper Today’s Zaman. At the same time he welcomed the finding and said it could boost tourism.
The next step in the discovery, says Wei, is to coordinate with scientists, researchers, and the Turkish government to conduct further studies on the site.
Mrs. Wei says she is 99.9 percent sure they have found Noah’s Ark.
“We need scientists to give us another 0.1 percent.”
[Editor's note: The original article was unclear regarding how long Noah's Ark was afloat. According to the Book of Genesis chapters 7 and 8, a storm raged for 40 days and 40 nights, and Noah's Ark floated on the flood waters for about five months before coming to rest "on the mountains of Ararat." Noah, his family, and two of every animal remained inside the boat for about 13 months total.]