for National Geographic News
In April businessman and Christian activist Daniel McGivern announced with great fanfare a planned summer expedition to Mount Ararat in Turkey. The project, he said, would prove that the fabled Noah's ark was buried there.
Explorers have long searched for the ark on the Turkish mountain. At a news conference in Washington, D.C., McGivern presented satellite images, which he claimed show a human-made objectNoah's arknestled in the ice and snow some 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) up the mountain.
"We are not excavating it," McGivern told the audience. "We're going to photograph it and, God willing, you're all going to see it." If successful, he said, the discovery would be "the greatest event since the resurrection of Christ."
The announcement received generous news coverage. But the U.S. $900,000 expedition quickly hit a snag: The Turkish government refused to grant the explorers permission to climb the mountain. Soon, the mission itself was put on ice.
But how credible was the expedition in the first place?
McGivern may have been more interested in generating publicity than mounting a serious search, critics now suggest. By making an early announcement, he may have tried to persuade the Turkish government into granting him a permit. Few expeditions have actually obtained clearance to climb Mount Ararat, which is located in a military zone.
The choice of expedition leadera Turkish academic named Ahmet Ali Arslan, who claims to have climbed Mount Ararat 50 times in 40 yearsalso raised a red flag with those familiar with previous expeditions.
(Neither McGivern nor Arslan responded to requests by National Geographic News for interviews for this story.)
Arslan was involved in a 1993 documentary, aired on CBS television, which claimed to have found the ark. Some of the evidence presented in that documentary turned out to be a hoax, raising concerns about Arslan's testimony.
Some archaeologists charge that Noah's-ark expeditions like McGivern's are nothing but wild-goose chases. Even if the ark existed, these scholars argue, it is unlikely that the wood from the boat would still be preserved today, thousands of years later. Moving ice is likely to have swept away any wooden structure, experts say.
"These expeditions are a waste of time, energy, and moneyall of which could be put to much better use by supporting existing scholarly excavations around the world," said Eric Cline, a historian and archaeologist at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
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