The Search for Noah's Ark: 1983
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
During late August and early September 1983, a small group of explorers sponsored by and representing ICR was allowed to climb Mt. Ararat in search of Noah's Ark. The climbing team concentrated its efforts on the west and north sides of the mountain, particularly the east side of the Ahora Gorge, thought to be the most likely site for the remains of the Ark.
The writer was once again the leader of the expedition, having directed the project since the early 1970's. We returned to the mountain on August 19 with a scaled-down crew of four Americans and one Turkish resident of America. The permits which had been requested beginning in early July were delayed until a very complete screening and evaluation process was completed by the Turkish government. Unfortunately, two members of the proposed team, Dr. Howard Carlson, Sumerian Archaeologist, and Dave Elliot, professional cinematographer, were unable to accompany the group at such a late date. Three of the team were mountaineering experts, two of whom were also trained in mountain rescue and medicine. One of these mountaineers, Donald Barber of San Diego, re-activated a previous injury at the 9500 ft. level and was unable to continue the climb. The other mountaineers, exmedic Brian Bartlett of Samuels, Idaho, and Dr. Ahmet Arslan of Washington, D.C., an expert on Turkish folklore, native of Mt. Ararat as well as professional climber, did make the climb. They were joined by Ed Crawford of Edmonton, Alberta, trained in Sumerian culture and cuneiform, and the writer. These were accompanied on the mountain by Ahmet Shaheen, vice-president of the Turkish Alpine Federation, and two Kurdish residents of Mt. Ararat. A return date of September 7 was necessary because of prior commitments, the group having planned to begin the work earlier in the summer.
In contrast to nearly all past expeditions, ICR applied for and was granted full scientific research permits by the Turkish government. The group proposed to study archaeological remains in the Ararat area, make linguistic and cultural comparisons with remains at sites known to be of great antiquity and to test the ICR position that all civilizations had originally sprung from a common source, the survivors of the Flood who lived on Mt. Ararat. Specific plans had originally included careful documentation and evaluation of known inscriptions, relief drawings, underground chambers, and structures previously discovered in the vicinity of Mt. Ararat, while also searching the area for other ancient relics, including the remains of the Ark. All members of the ICR team were specialists chosen specifically as men capable of accomplishing these goals.
Although the permits were finally granted and research visas issued by the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., finalization of the necessary paperwork kept the ICR group off the mountain for still another week-and-a-half of precious time. While waiting, they re-visited an unexcavated cave in the foothills of Ararat which has been known but never publicized to any extent until John Morris' books in 1973 and 1975. 1, 2 The cave, which had been dated as pre-Hittite based on the carvings and inscriptions near its opening, is hand-carved into an upturned layer of sandy limestone. Many more aspects of this site were discovered, including a series of prepared ledges and a facade which had been smoothed off near the cave opening in preparation for additional inscriptions or openings. Unfortunately, much deterioration of the area has taken place since 1975 and an interior room (tomb area?) as well as an arched tunnel had collapsed. The excavation of this promising site remains of paramount importance in the understanding of the early civilizations which sprang up after the Flood.
The other important archaeological site which ICR had hoped to document was declared a restricted zone and access was impossible. Objects discovered on past expeditions include a large semicircular altar, a cave with eight Sumerian crosses on its entry, inscriptions in a precuneiform script and many other objects of obvious antiquity. Much fruitful work could be done at this site.
Instead of beginning their climb on the northern side, which lies within the sensitive zone adjacent to the Russian border, as they had hoped, the ICR team was forced to climb from the south side on the standard tourist route to the summit and then to traverse around to the west and north. Implications of this ruling included losing four days of the limited remaining time in ascent and descent, inability to establish a base camp with proper documentary and climbing gear, and many miles of dangerous climbing on loose glacial skree.
Once at the Ahora Gorge, however, the team did check out what were thought to be the most promising sites, from vantage points above as well as below. No wood of any sort was discovered. Two new inscriptions were discovered on loose rocks in the bottom of the Ahora Gorge made of a granite stone common on the west face of the gorge. Another hand-carved cave which is easily seen on the vertical west wall of the gorge is reported to contain objects of religious significance by Kurdish villagers, none of whom have ventured there for superstitious reasons. Indeed, it would be nearly impossible to do so without technical rock climbing skills and equipment. Due to the reduced quantity and type of technical equipment brought on the long climb from the starting point on the south side of the mountain, the ICR team was disappointed in its efforts to enter the cave. Climbing from below was unsafe due to loose rock. A two-rope-length rappel down from above stopped about 10 meters above the cave.
Those knowledgeable on the Ararat project know that late August is considered the optimum time to search. The weather becomes much more unpredictable and potentially violent in September and climbing may become quite dangerous. Reports of a record winter snowfall had dampened expectations for the summer's work, as did news reports of bad weather in mid-August. But the ICR team found the mountain rather hospitable for a change, although cloud cover hampered photography and two midday snowstorms forced temporary bivouacs. Each day the snow melted and very little snow remained below 14,000 ft. elevation while the glaciers had receded back farther than in anyone's memory. The conditions seemed optimum for a discovery.
Other aspects of danger were also avoided. Relationships with the local Kurds on the mountain were enhanced by participation of the two Turkish guides and the assistance of the two well-respected Kurdish villagers. Thankfully, only a few minor skirmishes occurred with the usually vicious Kurdish wolfhounds. Furthermore, even though the team spent many hours and traveled many miles over loose "crumbly rock," only rare avalanches caused concern, with no injuries. We did encounter a bear in an ice cave on a hot afternoon in the Ahora Gorge, but thankfully, he was not interested in us.
Despite the favorable conditions, no remains of the Ark were discovered. Those sites thought to be the most likely resting places for the Ark were thoroughly investigated and photographed. Other sites of less interest could have been checked out, but time was short. (As it was, the writer had to miss the first three weeks of his teaching duties for the fall semester and could not stay longer.) The team returned to the States on September 8 and 10, satisfied that they had done everything possible under the circumstances. They and their financial and prayer supporters were predictably disappointed that the Ark was not discovered, but rest in the fact that God will allow the discovery in His time, and not before.
Turkey has recently changed its long-standing position against research and travel in the Ararat area. Whereas for the last 10 years or so, access has been quite limited, many groups from countries around the world were allowed to climb to the summit this year. Several expeditions were not restricted to the standard summit route and were allowed to look elsewhere in search of Noah's Ark.
One such expedition consisted of Pat Frost, Dr. Howard Davis, James Davies and others who linked up with a Turkish group doing medical research on the mountain. They achieved good coverage of the North Canyon area, and the area west of the Ahora Gorge. Another, headed up by Dr. John Willis, excavated a portion of an interesting ice pack east of the summit at 16,000 ft. elevation with a modified chain saw adapted to ice. Still another group, John McIntosh and friends, spent some time searching the area east of the Gorge and toward the saddle between the two peaks. They then joined still another group headed by Col. James Irwin and including Eryl Cummings, Marvin Steffins, Ray Anderson, and climber Bob Stuplich. This latter expedition was even allowed to make plane trips around the mountain. The plane made four circuits at 11,000, 12,000, 13,000, and 14,000 ft. elevation, with several hand-held cameras on board. Unfortunately, their photos showed no objects of interest. Neither did their ground search, which explored the east side of the Ahora Gorge and toward the saddle. A final group intended to make a late-season attempt as the ICR group left the mountain, and as of this writing have not returned.
The obvious thought has now crossed each explorer's mind—perhaps the remains of the Ark are not really on the mountain at all. Yet the overwhelming evidence remains.3 Something must be up there. But where? Seemingly, every possible location has been checked. On the other hand, it may be that our methods are no longer productive. Since none of these difficult and expensive foreign expeditions have been fruitful, in part due to their inability to spend large amounts of time on the mountain, perhaps it is time to turn the search over to the actual inhabitants, who have ready access to the mountain.
Just such a solution has been proposed and is being carefully considered. An ICR supporter has recently pledged a substantial sum of money to be offered as a reward to any Turkish discoverer of the Ark. The money would be placed in a Turkish bank and would be released once an ICR observer has documented the discovery. Until the Ark is found, no money would be spent and no lives endangered. If accepted, the offer will be extended to the proper Turkish groups within the next few months.
Those who might question such a plan should bear in mind that the combined expenditures of just this one summer's various expeditions totalled well over a quarter of a million dollars. A reward may well be a better use of limited finances, and seems now to offer a greater chance for success. Readers of Acts & Facts will be kept apprised of events as they occur.
1. Adventure on Ararat, John D. Morris (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1973).
2. Ark on Ararat, John D. Morris (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1975).
3. In addition to the two books mentioned above, see Has Anybody Really Seen Noah's Ark, by Violet Cummings (San Diego: Creation-Life Publishers, 1982).
* Dr. John Morris is the President of the Institute for Creation Research.