The Search for Noah's Ark: Status 1992
by John D. Morris, Ph.D.
Since the search for the Ark began in the 1940s, evidence has continued to mount that the remains of a barge-like structure still exist somewhere on Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey. This evidence consists primarily of reports by individuals who claim to have seen the Ark. Unfortunately, none of these accounts have been substantiated by documentation. Thus, all are to some degree questionable, and each should be held lightly. It can rightly be said that without these "eyewitness" reports, there would be no reason to look for the Ark, for the Bible contains no prophecy that it would be found. Indeed, it would be unlikely to have survived, apart from providential intervention.
These "eyewitnesses" all describe the Ark in the same general fashion—a large rectangular barge, usually with a catwalk, a "window," running its entire length. They likewise describe it as being high on the mountain, but not as high as the summit. They generally claim that only a portion of it can be seen, usually at the end of a long, hot summer, the rest covered by snow or rock. Most claim it is in very steep terrain, perhaps on a ledge adjacent to a cliff. For a variety of reasons, no one has been able to pinpoint the location.
The Bible claims that "the Ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat" (Genesis 8:4). Ararat was a region—a country—in the time of Moses, which included the mountain today known as Mt. Ararat, and much other territory. Thus the Bible does not specify a location in this region other than implying a high elevation, for it took two-and-one-half months for other mountains to appear (verse 5). The main reason to look on greater Mt. Ararat is because the majority of the eyewitnesses identify it as the site of their discovery, and their stories, which are unrelated, substantially agree.
The Bible tells us something of the construction of the Ark (Genesis 6:14-16) with three stories, a "window" structure on top, and "pitch" within and without. Noah was commanded to build it with "rooms" for the animals.
The "gopher wood," from which the Ark was made, is unidentified, and some have even speculated that it may have been a synthetic material.
The gross dimensions are given in cubits: three hundred cubits long by fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. A cubit is usually thought to be the distance from a man's elbow to his fingertips, but it seemed to vary from one civilization to another. Estimates vary from 17.5 inches to 24 inches. For convenience, most use a conservative figure of 18 inches, making the Ark 450 feet by 75 feet by 45 feet. Even at that, it was a huge vessel, certainly big enough to carry two (or in some cases seven) of each "kind" of land-dwelling, air-breathing animal. Beyond these few details, nothing more is said of the Ark, other than that it was sufficient for the journey.
My first trip to eastern Turkey was in 1971, and I have returned twelve times since, the last being in 1989. Some expeditions have been more successful than others, but each has been an adventure. The difficulties primarily lie in gaining access to the mountain from the central government, and in dealing with local officials. Once on the mountain, we have been able to search a number of specific sites, and have discovered many archaeological remains, but the Ark itself has not been found. Several other expeditions have also joined the search, with similar results.
Traditionally, the search was on foot, but in recent years the Turkish government has allowed the use of both helicopters and airplanes. Since ground expeditions usually have been only minimally effective, there is, in my opinion, no reason for further climbing expeditions, except perhaps for sonar surveys on the ice cap itself, and also to check out discoveries made from the air.
Political instability in the area limits access to eastern Turkey. Most notably, the Kurdish minority has been clamoring for independence, a movement which has gained international attention due to the tragic plight of ethnic Kurds in Iraq, not far to the south. The borders of Turkey, Iran, and the former Soviet state, Armenia, all come together at the base of Mt. Ararat, with predictable tensions. The recent breakup of the Soviet Union has further destabilized the area, as Armenia and Azerbaijan feud over borders.
Well-planned expeditions, with high-altitude helicopters and sensitive scientific equipment, received permission to search from both air and ground in 1990 and 1991, but each was cancelled over the issue of Iraq and Kuwait, and then the Kurdish problem ensued.
On a personal note, with my own responsibilities at ICR increasing over the years, I have found it necessary to cut back on my involvement in the search. My interest remains, but I have no plans to launch another ICR-sponsored expedition. However, I have maintained contact with the various expeditions actively seeking permits, and there remains the possibility that I would consider participating in a well-planned, high-tech, aerial search. Other than that, I maintain sincere friendships with other groups involved, but only nominally keep abreast of activities.
Interestingly enough, there are a few individuals who claim the Ark has already been found. They point to an interesting boat-shaped formation discovered in 1959 in a Turkish aerial mapping project. It is situated some seventeen miles from the summit of Greater Ararat (i.e., with the "mountains of Ararat"), is of a size compatible with the Biblical dimensions (515 feet by 138 feet), and is in a streamlined "boat shape."
The site has been investigated several times over the years, first in 1960 by a joint Turkish-American expedition, then by several groups in the '60s and '70s. My first efforts to study it in 1975 were thwarted by the local military, but two subsequent surveys were more fruitful. My conclusion, and the conclusion of almost every other team, was that it is an unusual geologic phenomenon, but not Noah's Ark.
In the late 1970s, Mr. Ron Wyatt began studying the area. While a nonscientist, Wyatt tirelessly surveyed the area, eventually marshaling several lines of evidence to support his contention that this formation is Noah's Ark. Eventually, Wyatt joined forces with David Fasold, Dr. John Baumgardner, Dr. Allen Roberts, and others.
Baumgardner, a geophysicist, was able to perform several scientific tests on the site, such as magnetometry, ground-penetrating radar, seismic, and finally, core drilling. Although he was at first open to the possibility that the site was the Ark, Baumgardner now contends he has disproved the hypothesis, especially by the core-drilling, which revealed only the sorts of rock on the nearby hillsides, and nothing of archaeological significance.
Meanwhile, Wyatt and Fasold have both published books on the "discovery" of the Ark, although they have now parted company and disagree about many of the important details.
Wyatt claims he has found much petrified wood, of a type which had no tree rings. (He holds that pre-Flood trees had no rings.) Fasold claims the Ark was constructed of cemented reeds which have since decayed away. Wyatt talks of the remains of three decks, rooms, and timbers, while Fasold feels the impression of the decayed ship is about all that remains. Both refer to "drogue stones," or stones suspended by rope from a boat and used to maintain stability and navigation. Both refer to corroded metal fittings, which they claim are found in rows, delineating the "ribs of the ship," as indicated by metal detectors and especially a "molecular frequency generator." This device, which includes two hand-held brass rods that cross when the sub-surface target is located, has been used by both to generate significant aspects of their data. Let me comment briefly on each of these points:
- On my two field studies and the investigations by many others, and in the microscopic study of samples gathered at the site, no petrified wood has been found. The rock types are somewhat exotic, but I have found neither wood nor cemented reeds. (By the way, petrified woods from before the Flood do have tree rings. Evidently, while the seasons may not have been as pronounced, they were sufficient to produce rings in the woody trees, as is obvious by studying petrified wood from numerous geologic layers.)
- The reliable subsurface tests do show distinct buried layers, but core drilling identified these layers as rock surfaces natural to the area.
- The drogue stones are found at some distance from the site, the nearest one, to my knowledge, being fourteen miles away. They are not dissimilar to many tombstones in the area, and are currently found in graveyards.
- The metal "fittings" are a serious overstatement. Much metallic ore is present in the surrounding hillsides and on the site. Furthermore, igneous cobbles are frequently present, which contain high concentrations of naturally occurring magnetic minerals. A metal detector will indicate this high concentration, which could be mistaken for a metal object. The sporadic cobbles were not found in a straight line, according to those present at the time, but ribbons connecting the locations of these cobbles did obviously appear in a line. Subsequent metal-detector surveys by several independent parties, including Baumgardner, have not discerned any pattern.
The molecular frequency generator, with its crossing, hand-held, brass rods, appears to employ the ancient art of divination—a practice thoroughly condemned by Scripture. At best, the results are hardly considered trustworthy. But it is this device which has produced the main support for the claim of metal fittings.
Both Fasold and Wyatt are articulate and assertive in their manner, and many have been convinced. They have aggressively promoted themselves and their works, and in so doing, have intimidated many and frustrated serious scientists and Ark searchers. Both have shown a tendency to attack, personally, those who disagree with them. In their writings and interviews, each has demonstrated disdain for Christians, in general, and ICR, in particular.
The site itself has received some attention with Turkey, and there is an effort to promote it as the Ark, in hopes of receiving tourist dollars. An unfurnished "visitor's center" has been built overlooking the site. Unfortunately, getting to the site is difficult. A narrow, rutted, dirt road winds up a steep hillside to a nearby village, but it is not navigable by many cars. Claims of a six-lane highway leading to the site are false.
My own geologic survey, coupled with microscopic analysis of all the rocks gathered and the thoughts of Baumbardner and others, has led to the conclusion that the formation, which rests between two hills on the side of a larger hillside, was formed as soil and mud slid downhill around a stable area, leaving a streamlined shape. Suffice it to say that there is a perfectly straightforward geologic explanation for the formation, and absolutely no indication that it is of archaeological significance.
Efforts to launch meaningful expeditions in the summer of 1992 were minimized by ongoing tensions in the area. But while the search has changed over the years and been tainted with much controversy, there is no shortage of veterans who want to return, and new groups attempting to launch their own efforts. We trust any future expedition will be conducted with integrity, all the while bathed in prayer, for until God intervenes, the Ark's whereabouts will remain a mystery.
*Dr. John D. Morris is President of ICR.