What follows are two articles I wrote for the magazine Adventist Review (May 20 and 27, 1993). Watch for links to additional articles and photographs not in their original publication.
Has Noah's Ark Been Found?
For two or three years I have been regularly confronted with the double question, "Has Noah's ark been found, and if so, why aren't Adventist archaeologists in the forefront of proclaiming this discovery?" This article is the first of a two part series to answer these questions. In Part I, I will review the biblical and archaeological evidence that has been proposed to prove Noah's ark has been found. In Part II I will discuss the scientific claims about "Noah's ark", in the light of how to evaluate the truthfulness of claims that will arise in the future.
The reader should know that I write this article sympathetically. Nothing would please me more than the finding of Noah's ark. I am a Bible student, an archaeologist, and a curator of an archaeological museum. The discovery of any ancient artifact is exciting for me, but the discovery of Noah's ark would be a singular event: undoubtedly, the most significant archaeological find in history. Also, like the majority of the readers of the Adventist Review I believe in the biblical story of the flood. How could I not be excited if such a relic was found?!
The Durupinar Site in the Tendurek Mountains
In the last century, the primary place where most searchers for Noah's ark have looked is the traditional Mount Ararat (Agri Dagh), the highest of the eastern Turkish mountains. The reason that this mountain has been the focus of investigation is a misunderstanding of Genesis 8:4, and some late traditions regarding Agri Dagh. While Agri Dagh is still being searched by some, most queries that have recently come to me are about a boat-shaped form often called Durupinar, which lies approximately 17 miles south of Agri Dagh.
This site was discovered by Llhan Durupinar, a captain in the Turkish army. While reviewing aerial photographs taken for NATO's Geodetic Survey of Turkey, Capt. Durupinar was startled to see a ship-like form on one of the photographs. The subsequent announcement of this strangely shaped form caused a furor in the U.S. and European media, which led to on-site investigations. Noorbergen recounts the distressing developments preceding his, George Vandeman's and Don Loveridge's own expedition in 1960, which included Captain Durupinar, and resulted in a military escort and permission to investigate the site. This was the first scientific investigation of the Durupinar site. After two days of digging (and even using dynamite) inside the "boat-shaped" formation the disappointed expedition members found only "dirt, rocks and more dirt." The official news release issued by George Vandeman, the team leader, concluded that "there were no visible archaeological remains" and that this formation "was a freak of nature and not man-made."
While most of the scholarly community has considered the nature of the Durupinar site as settled, i.e., a natural formation, at least one Seventh-day Adventist scholar has maintained some interest in this formation. William H. Shea (2, 3, 4), after reading Noorbergen's account about the expedition to the "boat-shaped" formation, published an article in 1976 suggesting that rather than being the ark, perhaps, this site was the "mold or cast of the Ark." Shea acknowledge that the Durupinar site had no archaeological evidence, but considered the formation's length, approximating the biblical ark's dimensions, curious at the least.
Recently, Ron Wyatt has, through his book and video, created an interest among lay members in this boat-shaped site. Wyatt claims that the Turkish government credits him with finding the Durupinar site, and thus, the discoverer of Noah's ark (p. 1, 4, 11, 22-23, 39). This is an unusual claim since this site was discovered in 1959, as noted above, and even acknowledged, if somewhat lightly, by Wyatt himself (p. iv). Since there has been much recent interest in the Durupinar site, and most of the questions that have come to me have been about the claims of Wyatt that the durupinar site is Noah's ark, I will evaluate his claims.
Is the Durupinar Site the Size of Noah's Ark?
The one undisputed fact that the Durupinar site has in its favor is it length, which is roughly the expected length of the ark. Wyatt's suggestion that the reason the Durupinar site (the ark) is 138 feet wide instead of the expected 86 feet, is that the ark has been splayed (pp. 14-15), is unconvincing. The truth is that the Durupinar site is about 50 per cent too wide to be the ark. While this point should not be over stressed, I feel that Wyatt's claims for the Durupinar site based on its length is out of proportion. A fair evaluation of the Durupinar site is that its length is approximately the length of the ark, while its width is twice as wide.
Wyatt says that the shape size of the boat-shaped formation "defies any other explanation" and it is "the only formation of its kind on planet earth"(p. 13). These are very difficult claims to prove, since he offers no alternative suggestions himself. Fortunately, Wyatt has not been the only one to analyze the Durupinar site. John D. Morris, who has graduate degrees in geological engineering, including a Ph.D., and who is himself an avid searcher for Noah's ark, has made two geological surveys of this site. His conclusion is that the Durupinar site is unique in its geological formation but that it is a geologically explainable phenomenon. Writes Morris, "Just as water flows around a rock in a stream bed, the site has acquired a streamlined shape, due to the dynamics of the slowly flowing material." Agri Dagh is itself a volcano, while the entire region is volcanic. In other words, according to Morris, the "boat-shapedness" of the Durupinar site comes from the lava flowing around an obstruction.
The Anchor Stones
Wyatt sees the many anchor stones he saw in 1977 of "tremendous significance" in proving the Durupinar site is the true Noah's ark (pp. 5, 21-22, 24). He claims to have seen 13 such anchor stones, eight of which have inscriptions that make a direct connection between the anchors and Noah (p. 21). Wyatt claims that the crosses chiseled on their surface are from the Byzantine and Crusader periods, but he rules out the possibility that the anchors, themselves, were crafted during those times because some of the anchors have no crosses or inscriptions (pp. 5, 21). Although the stones that Wyatt has found are as much as 14 miles from the Durupinar site, Wyatt has decided that the anchors were cut away from the ark as it approached the mountains leaving them all lying in a straight line.
When exactly these stones were set in place, and by whom, may be debated, but the biblical account does not match Wyatt's reconstruction for the placement of the anchors in their present location. He would see an ark guided by Noah, dropping the anchors as the ark approach the large mountains of the area, while the Bible portrays Noah's roll as passive. The Bible's chronological outline reports that the ark was "snagged" by one of the mountains before the mountain tops were visible and that the ark rested on the 17th day of the seventh month, while the mountains became visible on the first day of the tenth month. It is recorded that it was another 40 days before Noah even opened the window (Genesis 8:4-6).
Adding the number of days between when the ark rested (17th day of the seventh month) to the time when the mountains became visible (on the first day of the tenth month) lets us know that the tops of the mountains did not become visible for over 70 days after the ark was resting on ground. This means that the place where Noah's ark settled must be one of the higher mountains in its region, since for the ark to be resting in a low area with the mountains around still covered by water would be impossible. Agri Dagh is 10,000 feet higher and easily visible from the Durupinar site, it would, therefore, be impossible for the ark to be at the Durupinar site while Agri Dagh was still covered with water. The three verses of Genesis 8:4-6 are strong evidence that the Durupinar site cannot be related to Noah's ark.
It is most likely that these "anchor" stones originally had nothing to do with Christianity or the Flood. According to Abraham Terian the stones that Wyatt has found are not unique to the Durupinar area but are scattered throughout ancient Armenia. They are known to have been crafted by pagans and used in their worship long before Christianity came to Armenia. What Wyatt has identified as "rope holes" were originally niches for lamps. When the local Armenians became Christians, says Terian, many of these pagan stele were Christianized with inscriptions and symbols. This is why many of them are found in Christian cemeteries. They were holy stones, first for the pagans, then the Christians.
There is a fairly easy way to determine whether these stones were originally anchors or pagan stele, or at least to determine where they originated. Chemical and isotopic analyses and mineralogical tests could determine the origin of the stone from which these stele are carved, or they could say whether or not they are unique to the area they are found today. If these stones were crafted by Noah instead of people indigenous to this region, we would expect that the stone anchors would be composed of rock similar to where Noah started from, not where he stopped.
Without these tests it is impossible to be certain where these stones have originated. However, the evidence we do have causes me to conclude that these stones were not crafted by Noah's workmen, but were probably made near where they are found. According to Shea, all of the anchors are made of basalt, a stone common to volcanic regions. Since the entire region of the Tendurek mountains is volcanic, basalt is common to this area. Since the anchors are made of a rock commonly found in the Agri Dagh region, the most likely conclusion is that these stones originated in this region and, thus, were originally pagan stele not anchors.
Summary and Conclusion
For the past several years it has been claimed by Ron Wyatt that he has discovered Noah's ark. The site he claims to have "discovered," however, was originally discovered in 1959 by a Turkish captain. While the Durupinar site is about the right length for Noah's ark, it is, in addition, too wide to be Noah's ark. Wyatt has claimed that the "boat-shapedness" of this formation can only be explained by its being Noah's ark, but both Shea and Morris have offered other plausible explanations. Likewise, Wyatt has argued that the standing stones he has found are anchors, while Terian is aware of similar stones outside the Durupinar site area that were pagan cultic stones later converted by Christians for Christian purposes.
In Part II of this article we will evaluate the scientific evidence provided by Wyatt for the Durupinar site as well as review his other "discoveries." We will end Part II with suggestions for evaluating claims sure to arise in the future.
In Part I of this series I discussed the claims of Ron Wyatt, that he has discovered the Durupinar site, that the only explanation for that formation was that it was Noah's ark, and that Wyatt had located the ark's anchors. None of these claims are true. In this article I will evaluated other claims of Wyatt about the Durupinar site.
It has been claimed by Wyatt that the chemical analysis he has had done prove that the Durupinar site is a decomposed wooden boat. His evidence is two lab reports which show that the carbon percentages are different within the formation (4.95%) and outside the formation (1.88%). He says these tests "positively prove it to be composed of very ancient wood and metal"(p. 12 no. 3, pp. 7-8, and his charts on pp. 27-28). What Wyatt does not tell his readers is that both of these carbon percentages fall within the normal bounds of soil. Such percentages do not show evidence of ancient wood.
According to Morris the rocks in this formation were once molten, cooling to become an "ophiolite belt," meaning the Durupinar site contains rocks and dirt that have been altered due to the molten process. It is this phenomenon that has elevated the carbon percentage of the Durupinar site's soil. This same chemical process is also responsible for deceiving Wyatt into believing he has found "metal brackets and rust." According to Morris the site has many manganese nodules which are high in iron, which could be mistaken for iron by someone ignorant of geology.
Previous explorers of the site concluded that, since the Durupinar site did not contain wood, petrified or otherwise, it was a natural rock formation. This conclusion was reached because the rocks of the Durupinar site give no evidence of any organic material, since there are no visible structure in the rock, such as tree-rings. Wyatt, on the other hand, claims that the Durupinar site contains "train-loads" of petrified wood (p. 13, no. 5). Since his "petrified wood" has no growth rings, he concludes that the Durupinar site proves that trees before the flood had no growth rings (pp. 15-16, 73). To strengthen his point, Wyatt uses a quote about a tree identified as Sigillaria as "proof" that pre-flood trees had no growth rings (pp. 15).
Sigillaria, like much of the pre-flood flora and fauna are not known in the post-flood world. Scientists have, however, cataloged over 200 species of petrified trees, many of them related to trees of today, and these trees all have growth-rings. Harold Coffin (2, ) writes, "Wyatt refers to extinct giant club mosses that do not have growth rings as evidence that preflood trees do not have growth rings. The giant club moss, Sigillaria, could be compared with papaya, or banana or other fast-growing trees with pulpy wood. Yes, it does not have growth rings but that is not evidence for preflood conifers or deciduous trees. They do have good growth rings. I have spent years studying petrified trees in various areas of North America, in Patigonia [sic], and in Australia. They have growth rings if they are trees that normally are expected to have rings." The lack of growth rings, in what Wyatt thinks is wood, is evidence that the Durupinar site was created by molten rock not made of wood. His speculation about pre-flood trees is based on his ignorance petrified wood.
A "Molecular Frequency Generator"
Wyatt claims that his results with radar scan "showed what can only be identified as a keel, keelsons and bulkheads from a boat of tremendous size" (p. 18). Others have attempted to reduplicate Wyatt's results with radar scans without success. Tom Fenner, of the Geophysical Survey Systems Inc. (GSSI) also mentioned by Wyatt (pp. 17-18), says, "In 1987 I performed an extensive GPR [ground-penetrating radar] study in an attempt to characterize any shallow subsurface features in the boat-shaped formation at the site. . . .A great deal of effort was put into repeating the radar measurements acquired in 1986 by Wyatt and Fasold. . . .After numerous attempts over a period of one and a half days we were unable to duplicate their radar records in any way. . . I was never convinced the site was the remains of Noah's Ark. In fact the more time I spent on the site, the more skeptical I became."
John Baumgardner, a creationist and geophysicist, was an early supporter of the Durupinar site being Noah's ark (and is still featured in one of Wyatt's videos). Since then he has had the opportunity to evaluate the site by performing his own tests. Instead of proving the formation to be Noah's ark, he discovered additional evidence that it is a natural formation. Baumgardner's seismic tests found an outcropping of stone that runs below the surface and diagonally through the formation, which shows that the Durupinar site is really a relatively shallow phenomenon not consistent with any type of man-made structure. "Although formerly convinced that this formation was probably the remains of the ark, Dr. Baumgardner now believes there is less than a 10 per cent chance that anything man made is present."
To further examine the Durupinar site, Wyatt has also used what he calls a "molecular frequency generator." According to Wyatt this "new type of metal detector" discovered "a distinct linear subsurface pattern" or "striations" on which "metal readings were positive while the spaces between were totally negative" (p. 17). These "striations" supposedly reveal the outline of the ark's structure. The reader should know that a "molecular frequency generator" is an upscale dowsing rod, (i.e., sticks used for "witching" for water). In this case, brass rods are supposed to be able to detect metal. Dr. Baumgardner attempted to use a metal detector to double-check the molecular frequency generator with no success.
Summary and Conclusion: the Durupinar Site is not Noah's Ark
The Durupinar site is an intriguing phenomenon that was discovered in 1959 by a Turkish army captain. It lies within the ancient Urartu territory, as one would expect of Noah's ark, and it is even roughly the same length as one would expect the ark to be.
On the other hand, the Durupinar site is not the width of the ark as specified by the biblical account, nor does it fit the Bible's description of the ark's resting place--as one of the higher elevations in its region. In addition, Wyatt's characterization of the small difference of the carbon content within and without the formation is proof only of his lack of geological training, as is his attempt to rewrite all geological understanding to explain why his "pre-flood" wood has no growth rings. His reports of the results of his subsurface radar have been disputed, even by sympathetic scientists who have attempted them.
In short, Wyatt's "train-load" of evidence is in reality speculation based on imagination not evidence. The Durupinar site is undoubtedly a natural formation. Noah's ark has yet to be found.
Guidelines for Evaluating Claims
The Institute of Archaeology at Andrews University regularly receives letters from those who make claims of discoveries. For example, during the last few years several individuals have claimed they know exactly where the ark of the covenant is located--all proposing different places! Yet, all are positive as to its whereabouts. Sometimes these individuals claim that they have been divinely led in their discoveries, and occasionally, they even warn us that if we fail to help it may lead to God's disapproval. The following guidelines are useful in evaluating claims of discovery.
1. The Difference between a Claim and Evidence
Sometimes people ask me why I do not spend more time disproving false claims. The truth is it is easier to make a claim than it is to prove or disprove the claim. To make a claim one only needs to wish something true and tell people it is true. On the other hand, it is expensive and time consuming to check a claim for truthfulness.
A few years ago some church members wrote the General Conference about a newspaper account that the Ten Commandments had been found. That claim eventually came to my desk. The claim sounded very definite. A certain Israeli archaeologist, supposedly in the government's department of antiquities, was quoted in the article as being excited about the finding of the Ten Commandments. To check the reliability of this story I had to telephone the Israeli department of antiquities. Not only did that archaeologist not make such a claim, there was no one in the department of antiquities with that name, nor did they know any archaeologist with that name in all of Israel. Probably some newspaper person on a slow day decided to make me waste some the churches funds trying to verify a false claim. Anyone one can claim anything. Evidence is something that can be verified.
2. If it Seems too Good to be True, It Probably Is
One person who spoke to me about Noah's ark said, "If Noah's ark has been found, why isn't it mentioned in the newspapers and on television?" That is a good question. Of course, Mr. Wyatt might reply that it was on television and in the newspapers, because his hometown newspaper interviewed him and he was featured on a scandal style television program.
The finding of Noah's ark, the ark of the covenant, chariot wheels in the Red Sea, or the "real" Mount Sinai, would be stupendous news that would be front page news on every news paper and electronic media in the world. A discovery of this magnitude would fill the news for days, weeks, and months with reports following reports. You would not learn about any of these discoveries from itinerant presentors collecting funds. If any of these items are found, money would not need to be colleced from churches. It would pour in from every academic and government source.
3. See the Evidence Before You Believe
Reliable sources provide the evidence before they ask you to believe. Wyatt says that he has discovered the building techniques of the pyramids, but "it will be published in our forthcoming book" (p. 31). He has discovered the location of ancient "Succoth," but he gives no evidence (p. 31). He has discovered chariot parts from pharaoh's army, but "the details, photographs and analysis are included in our forthcoming book" (p. 32). He has discovered the burial crypts of giants, but "the facts and photographs of this discovery will appear in our forthcoming book" (p. 33). He has discovered the location of the ark of the covenant, but "it will be necessary for you to wait for the details and photographs of most of our discoveries" (p. 34). He has discovered the real Mount Sinai but he gives his readers no evidence to substantiate his claims. As I write this article it has been eight years since Wyatt has published these words, "We are presently finishing the full-sized book on Noah's Ark, complete with all the details of the search and final verification." Where is that book?
I am especially suspicious of what I call, "the dog ate it evidence." Many would be "discoverers" would show the evidence, BUT the government stole it or the film didn't develop right or they lost it, and so forth. In Wyatt's case, he would have the evidence of pharaoh's chariots, and the location of the ark of the covenant, but he got a sunburn and had to catch his plane (p. 33, 62). Always see the evidence before believing any claim(s).
4. Check the Evidence with Someone Not Involved
Wyatt admits that he has been criticized for his research methods, and I know why. Researchers are put-off by those who make claims that are ridiculous. For example, Wyatt writes, "However, the years of studying every piece of ancient history and archaeologically-related research had brought me to the brink of several other startling discoveries" (p. 30., emphasis mine). I know of no professional that would claim he/she had studied every piece of information in his/her discipline. There is just to much scientific information for any one person to have studied it all.
As an archaeologist, after reading Wyatt's claims for himself and seeing his elementary and obvious archaeological errors (e.g., Habiru, p. 32 and Joseph and the Step Pyramid, p. 54), it is difficult to take seriously any of his claims. Harold Coffin's response after reading Wyatt's book was, "Naturally I have no problem with the discovery of Noah's ark, but the multitude of inaccuracies and errors certainly turns one off who has some information." In short, consult with those who can evaluate the knowledge of the "discoverer" and his/her claims.
5. Do not Worry about a "Coverup"
Every would-be discoverer would show the evidence, but there is a big "coverup." Usually, it's the scholars that are fearful that if the discovery were known, it would "disprove their atheistic theories." For a long time ark searchers were able to blame the Russian government who was afraid that Noah's ark would be found. Human nature is such that if Noah's ark (or the Ten Commandments or the ark of the covenant) is found by an atheist he/she will want the credit for finding it.
Finding of Noah's ark will not change anyone's mind about the Bible, or make them become Christians. Jesus, himself, said if people reject the message of the Bible they will not listen, even if a cadaver came to life (Luke 16:31).
6. Sincerity Is Not "Proof"
Most of those who make claims of discovery seem sincere, so sincere that they are willing to break laws or endanger the safety of their friends or families. Wyatt sees the laws of Saudi Arabia are of little importance compared to his mission. He just breaks their laws (p. 44). What he considers badges of honor ("jailed as a spy, shot at by terrorists, beaten, robbed and persecuted"--see the back cover of his book), appear to be evidences of poor judgment. When you are analyzing a report, remind yourself that sincerity can never replace reliable evidence. Someone can be sincerely wrong.
7. Can God Be Wrong?
Most of those who claim to have found "amazing discoveries" seldom do it alone. They claim to be "agents of God." Sometimes they have discovered secret codes in the writings of Ellen White or the Bible or at other times God has openly spoken to them. Wyatt tells his readers that the Lord elected him as an act of mercy (p. 90), that he prayed for an earthquake that occurred after his prayer (p. 7), that his words and body are sometimes involuntarily controlled by God's power (p. 33-34), that the way he made many of his discoveries was by being "impressed" by God (p. 42), that his "discovery" of the building techniques of the pyramids came from a dream (p. 53-54). Much of his book is designed to convince the reader of Wyatt's unique relationship with God.
I believe in the gift of prophecy, but I never accept the claims of those who profess that power before I evaluate their evidence. I accept or reject their claims because of the evidence provided and then I know if they really are God's messengers (2 Timothy 4:3).End Notes