Noah's Ark Found? Turkey Expedition Planned for Summer

Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
April 27, 2004
Satellite pictures taken last summer of Mount Ararat in Turkey may reveal the final resting place of Noah's ark, according to Daniel McGivern, the businessman and Christian activist behind a planned summer 2004 expedition to investigate the site.

"We're telling people we're 98 percent sure," said McGivern, a member of the Hawaii Christian Coalition. "In one image we saw the beams, saw the wood. I'm convinced that the excavation of the object and the results of tests run on any collected samples will prove that it is Noah's ark. "

McGivern wrote a list in his Bible more than 20 years ago of ten great projects. Finding Noah's ark was at the top of his list.

McGivern began his quest in earnest in 1995, when the publication of a book on the topic moved him to arrange for satellite images to be taken of Mount Ararat.

Attempts to take satellite images in previous years had been foiled by clouds, unavailability of imaging equipment, and lack of image resolution. But the attempts had helped pinpoint the location. In the summer of 2003, everything came together.

"Last year was the hottest summer in Europe since 1500; more than 21,000 people died of the heat wave," McGivern said. "The summer melt was far more extensive than it has been in years."

DigitalGlobe, a commercial satellite-imagery company, confirmed that they took the images that McGivern is using.

An international team of archaeologists, forensic scientists, geologists, glaciologists, and others is being recruited to investigate the site sometime between July 15 and August 15.

Ahmet Arslan, a professor in Turkey who has climbed the mountain 50 times in 40 years, will lead the expedition. Arslan reported an eyewitness sighting of the ark and took a photograph in 1989 from about 220 yards (200 meters) away. However, he couldn't get any closer, and the picture is not definitive.

"We hope to assemble what we're calling the Dream Team," Arslan said. "The slopes are very, very harsh and dangerous on the northern face—it is extremely challenging, mentally and physically."

Noah's Ark

The story of Noah's ark is told in the Book of Genesis. It says God saw how corrupt the Earth had become and decided to "bring floodwaters on the Earth to destroy all life under the heavens." God is said to have told Noah, an honorable man, to build an ark 450 feet (137 meters) long, 75 feet (23 meters) wide, and 45 feet (14 meters) high, and fill it with two of every species on the Earth. It reportedly rained for 40 days and 40 nights. After about seven months, the waters receded, and the ark came to rest, according to the Bible.

Three major world religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—believe in Noah and his ark. Reports of ark sightings have been numerous. Witnesses often describe an old wooden structure sticking out of the snow and ice near the summit of Mount Ararat.

Despite the numerous sightings and rumors—of pictures taken by the CIA and locked in vaults, of lost photographs taken by a Russian expedition at the behest of Tsar Nicholas Alexander in 1918—no scientific evidence of the ark has emerged.

"On the one hand, I'm hopeful. On the other hand, I'm very skeptical" of the validity of the satellite images, said Rex Geissler, president of ArcImaging (Archaeological Imaging Research Consortium). "There is no publicly available picture that readily shows a man-made object that has any clarity whatsoever … Some of the photos are outright misrepresentations, non-scientific, and do not prove anything.

"We think that with the hundreds of explorers who have visited the region, if the ark was jutting out of the ice, it would be obvious."

ArcImaging was the first organization to receive permission from the Turkish government to survey the mountain since 1981. The archaeological research organization conducted a preliminary investigation of the icecap using ground-penetrating radar in 2001.

The Search Continues

The Bible states that Noah landed in the region of the ancient kingdom Urartu. Mount Ararat (its name probably a corrupted version of Urartu) has been the focus of those seeking the ark because it—at 17,000 feet (5,165 meters)—is the highest point in the area.

A volcanic mountain, Ararat is covered by an icecap from 14,000 feet (4,300 meters) to 17,000 feet (5,200 meters). The icecap is about 17 square miles (44 square kilometers) in size and is as deep as 300 feet (90 meters).

Known to locals as Agri Dagi—Turkish for "mountain of pain"— Ararat is not easy to access. Located in eastern Turkey—close to the borders of Armenia and Iran, and only 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Iraq—the region is politically volatile and often dangerous. Much of the region is part of a military zone, and getting permission to explore it is extremely difficult.

The ArcImaging team hopes to visit the region to continue their mapping of the icecap this summer.

McGivern is optimistic his group will also be on the face of the mountain this summer. He and Arslan met last week with the Turkish ambassador to the U.S. Arslan, who at one time worked in the Turkish prime minister's office, plans to meet with the prime minister next week.

"The ark is broken into a minimum of three pieces, up to six, from a huge earthquake that occurred in 1840. But it's been miraculously preserved. The satellite imagery shows vertical beams, and one horizontal beam," McGivern said.

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