Rarely has any project associated with the creation movement so captivated the mind of the general public as has the continuing search for Noah's Ark. Newspapers everywhere have carried articles on the subject. Radio and television stations frequently desire interviews with those who are involved in the project. Newscasts detail the project and recent developments. The demand for lectures on the subject is constant.
The potential rediscovery of the Ark is of even greater importance than appears on the surface. It will not be merely another in the series of many archaeological discoveries brought to light in recent years. It is much more than mere supportive evidence for a children's Sunday School story. The anticipated rediscovery of Noah's Ark would produce major effects on all academic disciplines, the greatest impact being felt in the archaeological, geological and historical realms, with repercussions even in world politics.
The Genesis account of the Flood of Noah is quite explicit. It describes the Flood as more than a local flood, more even than a regional catastrophe; suffice it to say that the Hebrew word used in the original text means "cataclysm" and is applied only to the Genesis flood. The New Testament equivalent is the very word from which we derive our English word "cataclysm."
Over and over again the Biblical writer proclaims the universality of the Flood. If there is any truth to the story at all, it is clear that this year-long flood was not only worldwide, but one which produced dramatic desolation. Indeed, it must have been a world-restructuring event. So great was its force, that in all likelihood even Noah would not have been able to recognize his former homeland. It is very unlikely that any vestiges of the pre-flood civilizations survived, at least in any recognizable form.
Noah's Ark, therefore, constitutes the one remaining archaeological link to the world before the Flood. No other major antediluvian artifact is ever likely to be found.
Furthermore, the very size and structure of the Ark would place it in the category of sensational finds, which would include the pyramids, Central American temples, and a few others. Mathematical calculations show conclusively that the size of the Ark was easily sufficient to house two of all kinds of land animals with quite a bit of room left over. Stability studies have shown that the length of 450' and cross section of 75' x 45' would have made the Ark virtually impossible to capsize. No doubt, such a structure could have been built only by men of an advanced civilization.
In short, no archaeological find could be of greater age or importance than the potential relocation of Noah's Ark.
Significance to Historical Geology
Popular concepts of origins would be greatly altered by the rediscovery of the Ark of Noah. Any model of earth history which uses as its basic assumption the doctrine of uniformitarianism would be found inadequate.
Uniformitarianism postulates that present natural processes have acted at approximately the same rates throughout long ages of geologic time and are responsible for the evolution of matter from non-matter, of life from non-life and higher forms of life from lower forms of life.
The direct opposite of the uniformitarian system is that of global catastrophism. The cataclysmic model states that present processes have not always acted as they do now, but at one or more times in the past were either greatly altered or else perhaps not operating at all, replaced by others, including creative processes which we do not observe today.
During the time of Noah's Flood in particular, many present processes would not have operated at present rates, and many others would have been greatly altered by changes in the make-up of the earth's surface and atmosphere.
These two assumptions, uniformitarianism and global catastrophism, are both all-encompassing and therefore mutually exclusive. Although uniformitarianism does not preclude local catastrophes, the concept of a worldwide hydraulic cataclysm is not compatible with the usual geological concept of evolutionary uniformitarianism.
Although neither can be absolutely proved, since they are out of the realm of scientific observation, if uniformitarianism can be shown incapable of explaining the facts, then catastrophism is necessary.
The remains of Noah's Ark have been reported to be at the 14,000' level on Mt. Ararat. Since a 14,000' high, year-long flood could not be either a local flood or a tranquil flood, the relocation of the Ark would provide overwhelming evidence in support of global catastrophism. Such a catastrophe is totally incompatible with uniformitarianism, and its evolutionary interpretation of the fossil record and geological ages.
Due to the fact that the anti-Biblical models of earth history known as theistic evolution and progressive creation also rest to a large degree on the assumption of uniformitarianism, they would likewise be shown conclusively to be invalid.
All of the various scientific disciplines, especially historical geology, would be forced to undergo major revisions, if the Ark were to be conclusively documented. There would remain no further intellectual basis for the theory of evolution.
Mt. Ararat, the resting place of Noah's Ark, lies in the remote frontier of Eastern Turkey, overlooking both the Russian and Iranian borders. The remoteness is somewhat misleading, however, for there is no lack of military installations and facilities in the area. The long-time rivalry between the Turks and the Russians has resulted in the classification of the area as a military zone. No one who resides out of the immediate area is allowed to approach the mountain without official permission from the Turkish government in the capital city of Ankara. For the same reason, no air traffic is sanctioned.
In the past few years the Russian image in Turkey has gained favor while the American image has suffered. Even in recent weeks, U.S. military aid to Turkey has been placed in jeopardy and diplomatic relations have been partially severed.
Any expedition allowed to search Mt. Ararat must do so with permits granted in spite of the military sensitivity of the area and reciprocal border agreements.
The Ararat area has seen almost constant war for thousands of years. Two of the ethnic groups that have always lived nearby have caused problems which affect the search for the Ark. The remnant of the Armenian people, most of whose members live in Russia within sight of Mt. Ararat, still calls for retribution for the loss of their traditional homeland, from which they were driven by the Turks in World War I. The Kurdish tribes who now live on Mt. Ararat support, but do not participate in the civil war in Iraq and Syria raging over the issue of Kurdish independence, and Turkey is afraid that it will spread into their country. In both cases, the calling of attention to the Ararat area would favor the causes of the minorities.
Western tourism to Turkey has declined considerably since U.S.-Turkish relationships have deteriorated. The discovery of Noah's Ark would see literally thousands of tourists flocking to see it if possible. This would partially alleviate Turkey's serious economic problems.
All of the implications are not yet known. It does seem obvious that Turkey would profit greatly from the discovery. To say the least, the Turkish international image and its sagging tourism industry would be enhanced, not to mention the better position at the bargaining and conference tables such a gesture of good-will and friendship would afford.
The search for Noah's Ark has been going on for at least thirty years on a major scale. Quite a few expeditions have studied the mountain with varying degrees of success but always with great degrees of hardship and danger.
While the Ark has not been rediscovered, researchers have turned up many earlier reported sightings, seemingly hundreds of reliable people who claim to have seen the Ark. The research has also shown that a major earthquake on Ararat in 1840 caused physical changes to the glacial patterns high on the slopes. Since 1840 many people claim to have seen the Ark. The following list contains most of the major reported sightings:
1853: Three Englishmen were shown the Ark by two Armenian natives.
1883: Turkish avalanche investigators discovered the Ark while studying the effects of a recent earthquake. The find was published in newspapers around the world.
1887: John Joseph, Prince of Nouri, of Malabar, India, discovered the vessel by design on his third attempt. He presented his claims to the World Parliament of Religions at the Chicago World's Fair a few years later, but was unable to raise financial support for proper documentation.
1902, 1904: "Georgie," an elderly Armenian immigrant, who escaped the turmoil following World War I and fled to the United States, saw the Ark twice as a teenager. He died in 1972 but his comments and interviews are available on tape.
1915, 1916: Two Russian flyers sighted the Ark from the air. The Czar dispatched 150 Russian soldiers and scientists to verify the claim. The ground investigations found the remains and succeeded in entering the three-storied structure and documenting it fully. However, when the Communists gained control, the documents were presumably destroyed, but many of the participants escaped and lived to tell the story.
1917: Six Turkish soldiers, returning home after service in Baghdad, decided to climb the mountain. They accidentally discovered the ship.
1936: Hardwicke Knight, a New Zealand archaeologist, accidentally discovered a field of timbers, very large and obviously hand-hewn, on the upper slopes of the mountain. Mr. Knight still lives in New Zealand.
1941-1944: During World War II Mount Ararat was flown over hundreds of times by flights from the United States air base in Tunisia and the Russian facility in Erivan. At least three sightings were reported: 1) Two Australian pilots, 2) One Russian pilot, 3) Two USAF pilots, but many more were rumored. The USAF flyers took pictures of the Ark which appeared in the Tunisia edition of "Stars and Stripes."
1948: A Kurdish farmer named Resit accidentally discovered the Ark. Under his insistence many of the villagers also observed it.
1952-1955: Fernand Navarra, wealthy French industrialist, found a great mass of hand-tooled lumber under the ice at the 13,000 foot level. He dug down to it, chopped off a portion about 9" x 9" x 5' and brought it back for analysis. The wood has been shown to be of great antiquity. Mr. Navarra is still alive.
1953: George Greene, mining engineer for an American oil company, spotted the Ark about 1/3 exposed from a helicopter. He photographed it from a distance of about 90 feet. Although at least thirty people alive today remember the pictures, they can no longer be seen, for Greene was murdered in 1962 and his belongings were destroyed.
1954, 1958: John Libi, of San Francisco, and Colonel Sehap Atalay of the Turkish army discovered wood in the same area as the previous sightings. Both men are still alive.
1962: Wilbur Bishop and Lawrence Hewitt, studying the summit of the 17,000 foot mountain from an airplane, were surprised to see a portion of a wooden structure at the 14,000 foot level. These two men are also still living.
1969: Fernand Navarra returned to Mount Ararat and guided explorers from SEARCH, Incorporated, to the spot of his discovery in 1955. Again fragments of wood were recovered.
Just as the earthquake in 1840 signaled the beginning of the major sightings, so 1972 saw the beginning of major steps toward the eventual documented relocation. Many expeditions had searched for the Ark during the period 1946-71, without success. But early in 1972, Mrs. Violet Cummings, wife of long-time Ark researcher Eryl Cummings, published a fascinating book entitled Noah's Ark: Fact or Fable? detailing all of the research and results of the expeditions involved.
For the first time the general public was made aware of the intricacies of the search, and before long applications to the Turkish government for permits to climb Ararat were numerous. Almost all of them were rejected. This "Ark Fever" which so resembles the "Gold Fever" of 1849 has somewhat stabilized now with only five major American groups actively involved:
- The Institute for Creation Research Ararat Probe led by John Morris (See the book Adventure on Ararat, published by I.C.R. in 1973).
- A small private effort led by Eryl Cummings, Lawrence Hewitt, and Clifford Burdick.
- SEARCH Foundation, Inc., President John Bradley.
- A small private effort associated with John Warwick Montgomery.
- The Holy Ground Mission Changing Center effort led by Tom Crotser.
The various expeditions of 1972 and 1973 are well-documented in various books and articles and need not be discussed here. In 1974 three separate summer efforts were launched, but published accounts of their work have been somewhat sketchy at best. More detailed factual information is still needed, but they will at least be mentioned briefly here.
Turkey's shaky political climate finally began to stabilize early in 1974 with the installation of a coalition government under the leadership of Prime Minister Ecevit. A somewhat favorable initial response to Ark efforts was received by the various groups, but when the Cyprus situation heightened to a crisis in early summer, all sensitive military areas were declared off-limits to foreigners.
Official permits were not issued to any of the groups, as far as is known. Although never giving up hope until late in the summer, both the I.C.R. group and the Cummings group wisely decided to stay home, only to be shocked later to hear that the three other groups had succeeded in climbing the mountain.
A group called National Association for Media Evangelism (NAME) based in Los Angeles recognized the value of the Ark toward their goal of evangelism and laid the groundwork for a documentary movie designed for television release, and contracted with John Warwick Montgomery who was to be responsible for acquisition of permits and logistics for the expedition. They spent portions of two days at the Navarra site on the northwest side, filming the area on 16mm movie film. No discovery was made. The following quotes were taken from a radio broadcast made by a commentator who was a member of the expedition shortly after returning (this same man contracted hyperthermia on the mountain and nearly died).
"Because of political difficulties, we had to ascend the mountain to the base camp at night."
" . . . we photographically mapped the area so it can be found again when the Turkish government hopefully allows the full scientific expedition it has been refusing for years."
The movie will not be released until June, 1975 at the earliest and will be in all likelihood top-quality work.
Another Hollywood producer caught Ark Fever last summer and also climbed to the Navarra site to make a movie, this time for theater release. Bart LaRue, whose primary goal was to produce a money-making film, returned from Turkey bragging (according to newspaper accounts) about how he had bribed numerous Turkish officials, and had also climbed at night to avoid detection. LaRue openly charged the Turks with such corruption among government officials as to make Watergate look like child's play.
In order to produce his film covering all the past work on the mountain, LaRue contracted with SEARCH, Inc. for all of their archival material. SEARCH was not directly involved with his 1974 expedition, but much of their movie footage and resource material will be in his film.
The third group of explorers represented a Texas cult known as the Holy Ground Mission of Palestine, Texas. Led by Tom Crotser, this cult feels that it has been appointed by God to write the last chapters of the Bible, and its members have been assigned the duty of restoring all meaningful and ancient remnants of Biblical days.
The Mission returned from Ararat claiming to have found the Ark. They are currently lecturing around the country showing pictures of "discoveries." The photographs, however, seem highly questionable. They are out of focus, and of uncertain origin. Many previous explorers have been to the area in question on Mt. Ararat (including the author) and have not seen the Ark. Many who have seen the pictures and heard the lecture have left dissatisfied and unconvinced, feeling instead that the Mission may be using the Ark search in order to promote their own peculiar brand of theology.
Future Ark Research
It may be noted that the Institute for Creation Research effort is the only one backed by a serious scientific organization capable of properly interpreting the scientific data. The I.C.R. has applied for permission to take a 13-member team into Turkey complete with professional scientists, photographers and climbers. Without making any unreasonable claims, the I.C.R. plans to systematically search the mountain for any remains of the Ark, carefully study it, as well as other archeological sites in the area, carry out geological and microbiological studies and document all findings photographically.
Whether or not the Turkish government will sanction such work is still open to question. Unfortunately, the methods of the three 1974 expeditions discussed above have made it unlikely that Turkey will be favorably disposed to allowing the search to continue. Add such officially non-sanctioned climbs and filming to the tense local military and ethnic situation, as well as the breakdown of Turkish-American relations and the chances for any further work on Mt. Ararat seems, humanly speaking, virtually impossible.
Those who have supported the Institute for Creation Research in its Ararat project may be confident that it neither has nor will become involved with any of these other groups. Our purpose is neither that of financial gain nor personal glory, but solely one of scientific inquiry and Biblical creationist confirmation. We will rejoice at the discovery if it is made and adequately documented, regardless of who does it, recognizing the spiritual significance as well.
In the meantime, we are trying to make the best possible preparations for an effective scientific expedition, Christian in both purpose and personnel, and conforming to high standards of industry, intelligence and integrity in all efforts relative to obtaining proper authorization for the search. The Ark will be revealed only in God's timing and according to His will, and it is essential that concerned Christians everywhere pray to that end.
*Author John Morris, B.S., is Field Scientist of the Institute for Creation Research and has been in charge of the I.C.R. Ararat Project since 1972. The account of the 1972 expedition to Mt. Ararat is given in his book Adventure on Ararat (San Diego, Institute for Creation Research, 1973, 116pp.)