Has Noah's Ark Been Found? Part I
By Dr. David Merling
For two or three years I have been regularly confronted with the double question, "Has Noah's ark been found, and if so, why aren't Adventist archaeologists in the forefront of proclaiming this discovery?" This article is the first of a two part series to answer these questions. In Part I, I will review the biblical and archaeological evidence that has been proposed to prove Noah's ark has been found. In Part II I will discuss the scientific claims about "Noah's ark", in the light of how to evaluate the truthfulness of claims that will arise in the future.
The reader should know that I write this article sympathetically. Nothing would please me more than the finding of Noah's ark. I am a Bible student, an archaeologist, and a curator of an archaeological museum, The discovery of any ancient artifact is exciting for me, but the discovery of Noah's ark would be a singular event: undoubtedly, the most significant archaeological find in history. Also, like the majority of the readers of the Adventist Review I believe in the biblical story of the flood. How could I not be excited if such a relic was found?!
The Durupinar Site in the Tendurek Mountains
In the last century, the primary place where most searchers for Noah's ark have looked is the traditional Mount Ararat (Agri Dagh), the highest of the eastern Turkish mountains. The reason that this mountain has been the focus of investigation is a misunderstanding of Genesis 8:4,1 and some late traditions regarding Agri Dagh.2 While Agri Dagh is still being searched by some, most queries that have recently come to me are about a boat-shaped form often called Durupinar, which lies approximately 17 miles south of Agri Dagh.
This site was discovered by Llhan Durupinar, a captain in the Turkish army.3 While reviewing aerial photographs taken for NATO's Geodetic Survey of Turkey, Capt. Durupinar was startled to see a ship-like form on one of the photographs. The subsequent announcement of this strangely shaped form caused a furor in the U.S. and European media, which led to on-site investigations. Noorbergen recounts the distressing developments preceding his, George Vandeman's and Don Loveridge's own expedition in 1960, which included Captain Durupinar, and resulted in a military escort and permission to investigate the site. This was the first scientific investigation of the Durupinar site. After two days of digging (and even using dynamite) inside the "boat-shaped" formation the disappointed expedition members found only "dirt, rocks and more dirt." The official news release issued by George Vandeman, the team leader, concluded that "there were no visible archaeological remains" and that this formation "was a freak of nature and not man-made."4
While most of the scholarly community has considered the nature of the Durupinar site as settled, i.e., a natural formation, at least one Seventh-day Adventist scholar has maintained some interest in this formation.5 William H. Shea,6 after reading Noorbergen's account about the expedition to the "boat-shaped" formation, published an article in 1976 suggesting that rather than being the ark, perhaps, this site was the "mold or cast of the Ark." Shea acknowledge that the Durupinar site had no archaeological evidence, but considered the formation's length, approximating the biblical ark's dimensions, curious at the least.7
Recently, Ron Wyatt has, through his book8 and video, created an interest among lay members in this boat-shaped site.9 Wyatt claims that the Turkish government credits him with finding the Durupinar site, and thus, the discoverer of Noah's ark (p. 1, 4, 11, 22-23, 39).10 This is an unusual claim since this site was discovered in 1959, as noted above, and even acknowledged, if somewhat lightly, by Wyatt himself (p. iv) . Since there has been much recent interest in the Durupinar site, and most of the questions that have come to me have been about the claims of Wyatt that the Durupinar site is Noah's ark, I will evaluate his claims.
Is the Durupinar Site the Site of Noah's Ark?
The one undisputed fact that the Durupinar site has in its favor is it length, which is roughly the expected length of the ark.11 Wyatt's suggestion that the reason the Durupinar site (the ark) is 138 feet wide instead of the expected 86 feet, is that the ark has been splayed (pp. 14-15), is unconvincing. The truth is that the Durupinar site is about 50 per cent too wide to be the ark. While this point should not be over stressed, I feel that Wyatt's claims for the Durupinar site based on its length is out of proportion. A fair evaluation of the Durupinar site is that its length is approximately the length of the ark, while its width is twice as wide.
Wyatt says that the shape size of the boat-shaped formation "defies any other explanation" and it is "the only formation of its kind on planet earth"(p. 13). These are very difficult claims to prove, since he offers no alternative suggestions himself. Fortunately, Wyatt has not been the only one to analyze the Durupinar site. John D. Morris, who has graduate degrees in geological engineerinq, includinq a Ph.D., and who is himself an avid searcher for Noah's ark, has made two geological surveys of this site.12 His conclusion is that the Durupinar site is unique in its geological formation but that it is a geologically explainable phenomenon. Writes Morris,
"Just as water flows around a rock in a stream bed, the site has acquired a streamlined shape, due to the dynamics of the slowly flowing material."13 Agri Dagh is itself a volcano, while the entire region is volcanic. In other words, according to Morris, the "boat-shapedness" of the Durupinar site comes from the lava flowing around an obstruction.
The Anchor14 Stones
Wyatt sees the many anchor stones he saw in 1977 of "tremendous significance" in proving the Durupinar site is the true Noah's ark (pp. 5, 21-22, 24). He claims to have seen 13 such anchor stones, eight of which have inscriptions that make a direct connection between the anchors and Noah (p. 21). Wyatt claims that the crosses chiseled on their surface are from the Byzantine and Crusader periods, but he rules out the possibility that the anchors, themselves, were crafted during those times because some of the anchors have no crosses or inscriptions (pp. 5, 21). Although the stones that Wyatt has found are as much as 14 miles from the Durupinar site, Wyatt has decided that the anchors were cut away from the ark as it approached the mountains leaving them all lying in a straight line.
When exactly these stones were set, in place, and by whom, may be debated, but the biblical account does not match Wyatt's reconstruction for the placement of the anchors in their present location. He would see an ark guided by Noah, dropping the anchors as the ark approach the large mountains of the area, while the Bible portrays Noah's role as passive. The Bible's chronological outline reports that the ark was "snagged" by one of the mountains before the mountain tops were visible and that the ark rested on the 17th day of the seventh month, while the mountains became visible on the first day of the tenth month. It is recorded that it was another 40 days before Noah even opened the window (Genesis 8:4-6).
Adding the number of days between when the ark rested (17th day of the seventh month) to the time when the mountains became visible (on the first day of the tenth month) lets us know that the tops of the mountains did not become visible for over 70 days after the ark was resting on ground. This means that the place where Noah's ark settled must be one of the higher mountains in its region, since for the ark to be resting in a low area with the mountains around still covered by water would be impossible. Agri Dagh is 10,000 feet higher and easily visible from the Durupinar site, it would, therefore, be impossible for the ark to be at the Durupinar site while Agri Dagh was still covered with water.15 The three verses of Genesis 8:4-6 are strong evidence that the Durupinar site cannot be related to Noah's ark.
It is most likely that these "anchor" stones originally had nothing to do with Christianity or the Flood. According to Abraham Terian16 the stones that Wyatt has found are not unique to the Durupinar area but are scattered throughout ancient Armenia.17 They are known to have been crafted by pagans and used in their worship long before Christianity came to Armenia. What Wyatt has identified as "rope holes" were originally niches for lamps. When the local Armenians became Christians, says Terian, many of these pagan stele were Christianized with inscriptions and symbols.18 This is why many of them are found in Christian cemeteries. They were holy stones, first for the pagans, then the Christians.
There is a fairly easy way to determine whether these stones were originally anchors or pagan stele, or at least to determine where they originated. Chemical and isotopic analyses and mineralogical tests could determine the origin of the stone from which these stele are carved, or they could say whether or not they are unique to the area they are found today. If these stones were crafted by Noah instead of people indigenous to this region, we would expect that the stone anchors would be composed of rock similar to where Noah started from, not where he stopped.
Without these tests it is impossible to be certain where these stones have originated. However, the evidence we do have causes me to conclude that these stones ware not crafted by Noah's workmen, but were probably made near where they are found. According to Shea, all of the anchors are made of basalt, a stone common to volcanic regions. Since the entire region of the Tendurek mountains19 is volcanic, basalt is common to this area.20 Since the anchors are made of a rock commonly found in the Agri Dagh region, the most likely conclusion is that these stones originated in this region and, thus, were originally pagan stele not anchors.
Summary and Conclusion
For the past several years it has been claimed by Ron Wyatt that he has discovered Noah's ark. The site he claims to have "discovered," however, was originally discovered in 1959 by a Turkish captain. While the Durupinar site is about the right length for Noah's ark, it is, in addition, too wide to be Noah's ark. Wyatt has claimed that the "boat-shapedness" of this formation can only be explained by its being Noah's ark, but both Shea and Morris have offered other plausible explanations. Likewise, Wyatt has argued that the standing stones he has found are anchors, while Terian is aware of similar stones outside the Durupinar site area that were pagan cultic stones later converted by Christians for Christian purposes.
In Part II of this article we will evaluate the scientific evidence provided by Wyatt for the Durupinar site as well as review his other "discoveries." We will end Part II with suggestions for evaluating claims sure to arise in the future.
- Gen 8:4 says that the ark rested in the "mountains of Ararat. Ararat was a mountainous country. See also 2 Kings 19:37; Isaiah 37:38 and Jeremiah 51:27. That Ararat was a country instead of a mountain should not surprise Seventh-day Adventists since this same information was printed in the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary over 30 years ago. Horn, Siegfried H., Commentary Reference Series, Vol. S, Review and Herald: 1960, "Ararat."
- For a reliable summary of the early and numerous locations of Noah's ark see, Bailey, Lloyd R. Noah: The Person and the Story in History and Tradition, Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1989, pp. 61-115. For example, JabelJudi(Cudi Dagh),located near Mosul, was accepted by Jews, Christians and Muslims as the ark's landing place during the early Islamic period, p. 67.
- Information about the discovery of the Durupinar site is taken from Noorbergen, Rene, The Ark File. Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1974, pp. 116ff.
- Noorbergen, p. 128 and an aerial and two ground-level pictures of this site and a short article detailing the finding of this site and its subsequent investigation were reported in Life, September 5, 1960.
- For an example of the general dismissal of the Durupinar site consider the cursory treatment given by Lloyd R. Bailey, Noah: The Personand theStory inHistory andTradition, University of South Carolina Press, 1989, p. 92, "The object in the aerial photos of 1959 has already been confirmed as a natural formation."
- Formerly a professor at the SDA Theological Seminary and currently an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference.
- "The Ark-shaped Formation in the Tendurek Mountains of Eastern Turkey," Creation Research Science Quarterly 3:1976, pp. 91. William Shea is one of the most creative and best published of Adventist scholars. He is well respected by both Adventist and non-Adventist scholars. To this day he believes that the question of the location of Noah's ark is unsettled. Due to the large number of queries the Institute of Archaeology has assembled a collection of letters and papers that speak to the question, "Is the Durupinar site Noah's Ark?" Those articles and letters quoted in this article, and noted with an *in these footnotes can be obtained in full by writing the Institute of Archaeology, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI 49104 and ask for the "Durupinar file." William Shea, "To Whom It May Concern,"* a letter, December 28, 1992, Merling, David, "Has Noah's Ark Been Found,"* a more fully documented copy of the two articles in this series.
- Wyatt, Ron, Discovered: Noah's Ark, Nashville: World Bible Society, 1989. All page numbers in the text, not referenced to another source refer to this book.
- David Fasold's book The Ark of Noah (New York: Wynwood Press, 1989) also claims the Durupinar site is Noah's ark. Fasold's book has circulated primarily among non-Adventist evangelicals, while Wyatt's influence has been with the Adventist audience. Fasold and Wyatt appear to be partners in an attempt to proclaim the Durupinar site as Noah's ark, but since Wyatt's claims have circulated primarily among SDAs I will evaluate his claims. I purchased my copy of Discovered: Noah's Ark at the local Adventist Book Center.
- See also the Southern Accent October 1992, caption under Wyatt's picture, "The Turkish government recognizes Ron Wyatt as the man who discovered Noah's Ark."
- The statement by Wyatt, arguing for the Egyptian cubit, that Moses "would have been referring to the only cubit he knew" (p. 14), is simplistic and ill informed. We do not know what Moses knew, but we do know that the Near Eastern cultures were much more complex, and knew much more about each other than he supposes. There were trade relations throughout all of the ancient Near East. Are we to suppose that these nations traded with each other without knowing the common measurements of their trading partners? Moses may well have used the Egyptian cubit but arguments can be suggested for the other cubits as well.
- "That Boat-Shaped Rock," Creation Ex Nihilo, Vol. 12, No. 4, p. 16.
- Ibid., p. 18, "The rock types are rather exotic, but there is nothing present which must be attributed to human construction."
- For convenience I am using the common term for these stones, but later in this discussion suggestions are made that dispute that these stones are anchors or replicas of anchors.
- The 16,945 foot Agri Dagh is only 17 miles north of the Durupinar site (elevation c. 6,300 feet).
- Dr. Terian, an Armenian by birth, teaches at the SDA Theological Seminary and is recognized as a world-class scholar in Armenian studies. Among his many honors, Dr. Terian has been invited several times to lecture and research in Russian Armenia.
- Standing stones are not unusual in the Near East. For example, one of numerous examples would be the ten standing stones found during the excavations of R.A.S. Macalister at Tell Gezer. The Excavation of Gezer. Vol. II, London: John Murray, 1912, pp. 385-396.
- Ararat Report, No. 17, May-June i988, but reconfirmed by the author in a conversation with Abraham Terian, January 18, 1992.
- This is a better geographical term for the area around the Durupinar site.
- Snellng, ibid., p. 33.