Expedition sets off to Noah's Ark
- Expedition this year sets off to Noah's Ark---
Has Noah's Ark been found?
by Nick Craven, Daily Mail Saturday May 1, 2004
Its shape can be seem from outer space. Now this year, a team of explorers hopes to prove that in the mountains of eastern Turkey lie the remains of Noah's Ark.
Deep within the confines of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, are stored case files that even its most experienced agents have been unable to explain. They are marked top secret, and few outside the building are aware of their existence.
One file that lay hidden there for more than 40 years was labelled "The Ararat Anomaly" and contained a picture taken by a US spy satellite in 1949 at the height of the Cold War. It showed a grainy image of the summit of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey, near the border with Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan.
At 15,500 ft above sea level, the region had never been explored by man. But the satellite image showed something quite remarkable. Amid the snow and scree, there appeared to be an outline of a man-made structure. Its elongated shape, some 400 ft long, seemed to be entirely out of place in the vertiginous landscape. Geologists could provide no natural explanation for its existence.
How could they? What they were shown defied all rationale. For what the shape most resembled was the frame of a giant, primitive ship.
Even the most sceptical among them were aware of the significance. Could this picture show the last resting place of Noah's Ark, the ship celebrated
through the centuries as part of divine lore?
The Great Flood is surely one of the most awe-inspiring tales in scripture - the transformation of God the Creator into the Divine Destroyer - and has been solemnly passed down by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike for thousands of years.
According to the Book of Genesis, God surveyed the work of sinful humankind and said: 'I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man and beast.'
Only one righteous man, Noah, and his family would be spared from this wrath. And so God said to Noah: 'The end of all flesh has come before me... Make thee an ark of gopher wood.'
The dimensions were specific - 300 cubits long by 50 wide by 30 high (a cubit being 18-20in, or the length of a man's forearm) - as were the instructions about saving a pair of every species on earth, from the elephant to the earthworm.
As we all know, the ark was tossed around for 40 days and 40 nights before the waters subsided and it came to rest on 'the Mountains of Ararat', ready to disgorge its cargo and re-populate the earth.
BUT was this Biblical rebooting of life on earth merely a myth, a fable passed down through the generations as part of narrative tradition, or could there be some basis in fact?
In other words, was there really a flood, and did one man create a floating menagerie to save himself and all God's creatures?
It is a question archaeologists, historians, geologists and Christians have been arguing about for decades, fuelled not only by religious fervour, but by tantalising clues.
Now, an American expedition is preparing to climb Mount Ararat and examine for the first time one of the most perplexing pieces of evidence yet: the Ararat Anomaly. Could this intriguing satellite photo really be proof of the lost Ark?
THE man leading this summer's £500,000 expedition is millionaire Christian businessman Daniel McGivern, who made a fortune in calendars and greetings cards and has long nurtured a dream of finding the ark.
Ever since the satellite imagery of Mount Ararat was made public in the 1990s, he has been intrigued by the possibilities it suggested.
Initially, McGivern commissioned even more detailed photographs of the area from commercial satellites, but it was impossible to tell if what appeared was something specific, or merely a freak of nature.
Then, last summer, a heat wave that hung over northeast Europe gave an unexpected boon to the ark-hunters: it melted tons of ice from the top of Mount Ararat, exposing more of the 'anomaly' than had ever been visible before.
These new photos unequivocally show a man-made object,' McGivern, 54, claims.
A non-expert, or perhaps a non-believer, might not be so adamant, but there is only one way to be sure - and that is to make the perilous ascent of the mountain, which is exactly what McGivern and his team of American and Turkish archaeologists, forensic experts and geologists plan to do.
If he does find any trace of an ark, his plans are clear: 'We have no intention of excavating it - we will photograph it, enter it, examine it as much as possible, but not disturb anything. It's going to be left where it is.'
He claims that his Christian beliefs will not overrule rationality. 'Anybody who thinks the entire world was flooded by 40 days of rain is totally unscientific,' he says. But he does hope that his journey might provide the focus for spiritual unity.
'All three of the monotheistic religions believe that we are all descended from Noah and his three sons,' he said. 'In these times it is good to have something that Jews, Christians and Muslims all agree about.'
Unfortunately, the Muslims believe they've found their ark already.
Some 20 miles from Mount Ararat, the much smaller peak of El Judi is only 7,000ft high, but according to the Koran this was where the Ark really came to rest. When a boat-shaped outline was discovered there in 1908 word soon spread, but following World War I, access to the highly volatile area for Westerners was nigh impossible.
That didn't stop one San Francisco businessman, John Libi, from trying. He claimed to have been shown the Ark's location on El Judi in a dream.
After seven assaults on the mountain, he gave up at the age of 73, having survived being buried in an avalanche, chased by wolves, attacked by a bear and accused of spying by the Soviets.
But in 1988, celebrated American archaeologist Vendyl Jones, said to be an inspiration for Hollywood's fictional swashbuckling adventurer Indiana Jones, succeeded in reaching the site and declared: 'There is very strong evidence it could well be Noah's Ark.'
That was more than enough for the Turkish government, which declared the area a site of outstanding natural and historical interest and marked official maps with 'Nuhu un Gemisi': Noah's big boat.
Various Christian authors and scientists who have since made the trek to the El Judi site claim to have evidence of traces of wood or nails - one team claiming to have found sea shells at the site, despite it being hundreds of miles inland. Another claimed to have found 'trainloads' of gopher wood.
Many of the Western visitors did well out of books and documentaries chronicling their expeditions - not so much Raiders as Traders Of The Lost Ark.
All that came to an end, at least as far as El Judi was concerned, when Professor Lorence Collins from California State University conducted extensive tests at the site in 1996, only to conclude: 'The supposed ark... is a completely natural rock formation. It is understandable why early investigators falsely identified it.
THE unusual boat-shaped structure would so catch their attention that an eagerness to be persons who discovered Noah's Ark or confirmed its existence would tend to override caution.'
By then, though, another theory was beginning to emerge which, while it did provide intriguing evidence about a huge flood, also undermined both the Ararat and El Judi theories. Two marine geologists from Columbia University
in New York suggested that the Black Sea, in fact a giant lake which lies several hundred miles northwest of Mount Ararat, was created by the Mediterranean overflowing through a natural dam at the Bosphorous and flooding with a force 'equal to 10,000 Niagara Falls'.
While such a flood was nowhere near enough to reach 7,000ft above present sea level, never mind 15,000ft, it did perhaps confirm one tenet of the flood story - that a mighty deluge of water had swamped the earth.
And if this had taken place at the Bosphorous, could Noah's Ark in fact not be on top of a mountain but at the bottom the Black Sea?
On the strength of that theory, renowned oceanographer Dr Robert Ballard, who discovered the wrecks of the Titanic, the Bismarck and the Lusitania, set off for the
Black Sea, hoping to find Noah's Ark in its murky depths.
He was encouraged by the fact that the top 450ft layer of the water, fed by rivers such as the Don and Danube, is fresh water, while the great mass of water beneath, extending up to 7,000ft in places, is salt water - which, because it is trapped in a natural basin, is devoid of oxygen.
In this environment, creatures and bacteria which would normally corrode metal and cause wood to rot cannot survive, turning the whole sea into a huge preservation tank. Ballard hoped that if the Ark was indeed at the bottom of this salt-lake, then it would be almost perfectly preserved.
When his team stumbled upon a mass of ancient timbers on the sea floor, they could scarcely contain their excitement. But when they brought the wood to the surface for further tests, their hopes were dashed. The ship was indeed ancient - more than 2,300 years old. But while it was the oldest wreck ever discovered, it was not nearly old enough to be Noah's Ark.
NOW, once more, attention has turned back to the Ararat Anomaly, partly because the site has never been reached and properly examined, taut also because the tremendous advances in the quality of satellite imagery have failed to resolve the mystery one way or the other.
The man who, in 1995, forced the CIA to reveal its hitherto secret photographs of Mount Ararat was Porcher Taylor, assistant professor of communications at the University of Richmond, Virginia.
'Debates centre on whether or not it's a strange rock formation, a crashed airplane, perhaps a fortress or some other structure hundreds of years old - or maybe
something more interesting of potentially biblical proportions,' he explains.
The ten-strong McGivern expedition in July will be led by Ahmel Ali Arslan, a Professor of English and an experienced mountaineer who has climbed Ararat 50 times.
While he has come as close as 200 yards to the supposed site of the Ark on one such expedition, an ice avalanche forced him to flee before making a more detailed study.
JUST how far McGivern and his team will get this time remains to be seen . But until they return, the most plausible theory about the Ark's existence is to be found in an ancient text from Mesopotamia, in modern day Iraq. Called the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is thought to pre- date the Bible text by more than 700 years.
In this ancient poem, a man named Ut-napishtim builds a boat on the orders of God and, like Noah, he was instructed to take on board the 'seed of all living creatures'.
Both boats came to rest on mountains, though in the Gilgamesh version, the vessel, which started on the Euphrates, would have been more likely to have drifted downstream towards Basra and the Persian Gulf, rather than west to Mount Ararat in Turkey.
More importantly, if Ut-napishtim's epic journey was recorded 700 years before Noah's tale was written down, it makes it distinctly possible that the Bible's authors were merely copying an existing fable. In other words, did Noah exist at all?
Bible scholars point out that the Epic of Gilgamesh could itself be a distortion of a story passed down by word of mouth through generations, stretching right back, perhaps as far as Noah himself.
Ultimately, people will believe what they want to believe - even that a wooden ship, more than half the size of the QE2, now rests 15,000 ft up amid the snow and ice of Mount Ararat.
Who could have defied all known laws of the earth in such a way?
McGivern and his team have a simple answer: God could. And now all they need is the evidence.
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