In this world there are things that seem on the verge of being discovered every so often, yet never quite materialize. The "Lost City" of Atlantis, for example, has been "found" at least a half dozen times. One researcher is pretty sure it is in Bolivia; another says it is Antarctica; a third claims that Bimini beachrock may be from the lost civilization.
So it is with Noah's Ark.
The difference is, of course, that the implications of Noah's Ark actually being found extend far beyond archaeology. The weight of all the paired animals in the world is nothing compared to the religious freight that the Ark carries.
The Ark story is scientifically implausible; there simply wouldn't be enough space on the boat to accommodate two of every living animal (including dinosaurs), along with the food and water necessary to keep them alive. Furthermore, constructing a vessel of that scale would take hundreds of workers months to complete. Still, Biblical literalists—those who believe that proof of the Bible's events remains to be found—have spent lives and fortunes trying to validate their beliefs.
The search goes on
Before discussing the recent claims regarding the whereabouts of Noah's vessel, a history of Ark "finds" is instructive.
Violet M. Cummings is the author of several books on Noah's Ark, among them "Noah's Ark: Fable or Fact?" (1975), in which she claimed that Noah's Ark was found on Turkey's Mount Ararat. According to the 1976 book and film "In Search of Noah's Ark," "there is now actual photographic evidence that Noah's Ark really does exist.... Scientists have used satellites, computers, and powerful cameras to pinpoint the Ark's exact location on Mt. Ararat."
This is a rather remarkable claim, for despite repeated trips to Mt. Ararat over the past thirty years, the Ark remains elusive.
Undeterred by a lack of evidence, in 1982 Cummings issued a book titled, "Has Anybody Really Seen Noah's Ark?," published by Creation-Life Publishers. The subtitle, "An Affirmative Definitive Report," hints at Cummings's conclusion.
Interest in Noah's Ark resurfaced in February 1993, when CBS aired a two-hour primetime special titled, "The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark." (Little did CBS know that they were using incredible in its accurate, proper meaning: "not credible.")
As Ken Feder describes in his book "Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries," the special "was a hodgepodge of unverifiable stories and misrepresentations of the paleontological, archaeological, and historical records." It included the riveting testimony of a George Jammal, who claimed not only to have personally seen the Ark on Ararat but recovered a piece of it. Jammal's story (and the chunk of wood he displayed) impressed both CBS producers and viewers. Yet he was later revealed as a paid actor who had never been to Turkey and whose piece of the Ark was not an unknown ancient timber (identified in the Bible as "gopher wood") but instead modern pine soaked in soy sauce and artificially aged in an oven.
Red-faced CBS, which had done little fact-checking for their much-hyped special, said that the program was entertainment, not a documentary.
More claims surfaced periodically, including in March 2006, when a LiveScience writer reported on yet another incarnation of the Ararat claim. A team of researchers found a rock formation that might resemble a huge ark, nearly covered in glacial ice. Little came of that claim but a few months later, in June, a team of archaeologists from the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (BASE) Institute, a Christian organization, found yet another rock formation that might be Noah's Ark.
This time the Ark was "found" not on Ararat but at 13,000 feet in the Elburz mountains of Iran. "I can't imagine what it could be if it is not the Ark," said team member Arch Bonnema. They brought back pieces of stone they claim may be petrified wood beams, as well as video footage of the rocky cliffs.
The team believes that, within the rock formation, they can see evidence of hundreds of massive hand-hewn wooden beams laid out in the presumed size and shape of the Ark.
The Biblical archaeologists seem to have experienced pareidolia; seeing what they want to see in ambiguous patterns or images. Just as religious people will see images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary in toast, stains, or clouds, they may also see images of Noah's Ark in stone cliffs. (In New Mexico's Sandia National Forest there is a large rock formation called Battleship Rock, which—from a certain angle—does indeed look like a battleship. One wonders what the BASE team would make of that.)
Other researchers remain certain that the Ark is in fact on Mt. Ararat. Noah's Ark enthusiasts are therefore in the somewhat awkward position of deciding which (if any) of several scientifically "definitive" Ark finds is the real one.
The BASE claims, as with all previous reports of finding the Ark, have yet to be proven. Ultimately, it may not matter, because, as BASE president Bob Cornuke states, "I guess what my wife says my business is, we sell hope. Hope that it could be true, hope that there is a God."
Yet the question is not about faith, hope, or God; the question is if Noah's Ark is real and has been found. Like Atlantis, the ever-elusive Ark will continue to be "found" by those looking for it—whether it exists or not.
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