Since the 1800s, alleged sightings of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat have kindled a hope of recovering the Ark intact. Certainly, for Bible believers, the finding of the Ark would be a major triumph in the search for archaeological confirmation of the Scriptures. Yet, despite many alleged sightings, nobody has been able to definitively prove that they have indeed found Noah’s Ark. If the Ark is on Mount Ararat, it’s large size should make it easy to find. So, why can’t we seem to find it?
This is a summary of the research pertaining to A Review of the Search for Noah’s Ark by Anne Habermehl. The views expressed reflect those of the author mentioned, and not necessarily those of New Creation.
Scholars have offered a number of reasons why we haven’t found the Ark. Some researchers suggest that the mountain that we call Ararat today is not the biblical Mount Ararat at all. Perhaps the ark lies on other mountains such as Mt. Cudi in Turkey or a mountain in Iran. Another theory places it at Durupinar near Mount Ararat. Some geologists argue that Mount Ararat, which is volcanic, did not form until after the Flood. Since then, the mountain has erupted multiple times. The latest eruption occurred in 1840. If the mountain did not exist until after the Flood, it would have been impossible for the Ark to have landed there. Another consideration is that the ark may not have survived the thousands of years since Noah’s time.
In a 2008 article, Habermehl offers a brief review of the searches for the Ark that have taken place in the past two hundred years.
What Does the Bible Say?
The Genesis account of the landing of the Ark offers three clues regarding its location. Those searching for the Ark should be aware of these clues.
The First Clue
First, Genesis 8:4 states that “the ark rested…upon the mountains of Ararat.” The Hebrew word for Ararat can also translate to Urartu. Urartu was an ancient kingdom which was later called Armenia in modern-day Iraq. Urartu was a mountainous region, so “the mountains of Urartu” does not specify a precise location.
The borders of Uratu changed over time. It is difficult to know which borders should be applied to the text. If we use the borders of Urartu from the time that Moses wrote the book of Genesis, it was a small region, and did not include modern Mount Ararat. Later, the borders increased. By the 9th century BC (the time of Ezra) Mount Ararat was within the borders of Urartu.
The Second Clue
The second biblical clue comes from Genesis 8:5, which states that mountain tops became visible after the Ark had come to rest. The mountain tops became visible on a specific day. If they became visible due to receding waters, it seems unlikely that multiple mountain tops would become visible on the same day, since that would suggest that they were all exactly the same height. Rather, it is likely that a mist hid the mountain tops. On the day that the mist cleared, they became visible. Regardless, it seems likely that the ark was resting on one of the highest mountains, since it came to rest before the other mountain tops were visible.
The Third Clue
The third clue regarding the location of the ark comes from Genesis 11:2. This verse states that Noah’s descendents traveled from the east to a plain in the land of Shinar. The chapter continues with a description of the Tower of Babel event, which occurred in the land of Shinar. Although many researchers assume that Babylon marks the spot of Babel, this seems unlikely for several reasons. The word Babylon comes from a word meaning “Gate of the god,” while the word Babel is likely related to the Hebrew word for “confusion.” Additionally, Babylon is located not west but south of the three most popular locations for Noah’s Ark.
Thus, the three biblical clues regarding the location of Noah’s Ark is that it came to rest on the Mountains of Ararat (Urartu), on a high mountain, east of Babel. Habermehl believes that in order to find the correct location for Noah’s Ark, we must follow all three of these clues.
What Do Early Historical Records Say?
Until the 13th century AD, writers suggested that the location of the Ark was on Mount Cudi near the town of Cizre in southeastern Turkey. Mount Cudi is about 200 miles south of Mount Ararat. Although some early writings place the Ark at Jabel or Judi, these seem to be alternate names for Mount Cudi.
However, to further confuse the matter, in addition to Mount Cudi near Cizre, there are also several other Cudi or Judi mountains associated with the Ark tradition. Because the Quran (Sura Hood 11:44) places the ark on Mount Al-Judi (or Cudi), some Muslims associate the Ark with Mount Cudi near Cizre. However, another tradition linked the ark with Durupinar. Because of this, the Turkish government renamed that hill Mount Judi in order to link it with the Quran reference. However, some Muslim traditions place the Ark on the traditional Mount Ararat. Some have tried to associate the name Mount Judi with Mount Ararat.
Relocating the Ark from Mount Cudi to Mount Ararat
In the 12th or 13th century, popular belief regarding the location of the Ark shifted from Mount Cudi to Mount Ararat. This may be because the Armenian (Urartu) border shifted and no longer included Mount Cudi.
Both mountains have Ark traditions. At both sites there are villages known as “village of the eight,” of which Noah was the supposed founder. Both sites have legends in which the ark first touched down on another mountain before coming to its final resting place. Other duplicate sites present at both mountains include Noah’s vineyard and Noah’s grave.
Lanser (2006, 115–116) suggests that Ark tradition was originally located at Mount Ararat but moved to Mount Cudi after snow, ice, or volcanic ash buried the Ark and made it impossible to find it on Mount Ararat. He suggests that later, after recent alleged sightings of the Ark on Mount Ararat, the traditional location reverted to that mountain.
Recent Alleged Sightings of the Ark on Mount Ararat
Today, most people who believe in the historicity of the Genesis account seem to assume that the Ark is on modern Mount Ararat. There have been multiple alleged sightings of the Ark on Mount Ararat since 1800. Some claim that the ark is whole, others that it is broken up. According to some, it is smooth, to others, there are visible wood planks. The list goes on. It has, or does not have, a huge door in the side, a catwalk, and a boat-shaped bow. It is any variety of colors.
However, problems exist with many of the Ark sightings. For some, closer inspection revealed that the object in question was not the Ark after all. Since Mount Ararat is a volcano, it features large blocks of basalt. These are frequently mistaken for the Ark, since, when seen at a distance, they can resemble a large ship. Many alleged Ark sightings turn out to be nothing more than one of these rock formations.
In other instances, the researchers could not find the object to examine it closer. Sometimes, photographs were lost, or the person who claimed to see the Ark was proven to be an unreliable witness. In some instances, witnesses disappeared or died. Many explorers have claimed to see, or even touch, the ark without offering any proof at all.
Potentially Credible Sightings
However, despite the problems with many of the alleged Ark sighting stories, there are some Ark sightings that require serious consideration. These include statements by some reasonably reliable witnesses who have claimed to have seen wooden structures on Mount Ararat. Habermehl suggests that while these structures exist on Mount Ararat, they likely date to the “Medieval Warm Period,” a period of warmer temperature that lasted from 900 to 1300 AD. At this time, trees grew on the now treeless Mount Ararat. These trees would have provided wood to build structures on the mountain. Later, when the climate cooled down, ice would have formed, causing the inhabitants to abandon the area. Perhaps these structures were monasteries built to commemorate the mountain associated with the Ark.
Places Where the Ark Has Been “Found”
This section of the article discusses the various sites at which explorers have allegedly found the Ark. They include Mount Ararat, Mount Cudi, Durupinar, and the Elborz Mountains of Iran.
Mount Ararat rises to a height of 5,165 meters (3.2 miles). It is located in eastern Turkey. In the 1960s, Burdick (1967) suggested that Mount Ararat had already existed before the Flood, but that additional lava layers raised the height during the Flood. He claimed to have found evidence that the mountain was once underwater, presumably during the Flood.
Although scholars originally respected Burdick’s research, it later came to light that his claimed academic degrees were bogus. Therefore, his competence as a researcher came into question. Later research revealed that Mount Ararat does not display characteristics of an underwater volcano. Rather, it appears to have formed entirely above water.
Radioisotope dating suggests that the oldest possible age for the volcanic rock of Mount Ararat is 1.7 million years old by conventional dates. Habermehl, in converting this to a biblical time scale, places it at least a hundred years after the Flood. The rocks forming Mount Ararat are some of the most recent geological formations in the area.
Mount Cudi, which lies near Cizre in Turkey, is another potential Ark site. It lies east of a plain that Habermehl believes to be the plain associated with the Tower of Babel. At 2,089 meters (1.3 miles) high, Mount Cudi is non-volcanic with several monasteries on its slopes. One at the summit was known as the Cloister of the Ark, but it was destroyed by lightning in 766 AD.
Since Mount Cudi has been associated with the landing site of the ark, it may have at one time been called Mount Ararat. Therefore, it is possible that some early alleged sightings of the Ark on Mount Ararat may have actually been at Mount Cudi rather than the mountain currently known as Mount Ararat. In recent history, a ship-shaped rock formation has been visible on Mount Cudi, which some may have mistaken for the Ark.
The Durupinar site is a boat-shaped formation located about 30 kilometers south of the summit of Mount Ararat. After Ilhan Durupinar brought it to the world’s attention in 1959, Ron Wyatt and David Fasold promoted the site as Noah’s Ark. The Turkish government declared this to be the official ark site, and they built a visitor center there.
Geologists have confirmed that the Durupinar site is a naturally occurring geological formation (Snelling 1992, 26–38). In fact, it is one of several similar formations in the area. There are standing stones in the area which Fasold suggested were drudge stones from the Ark, but these are instead ancient Turkish calendars with astronomical significance, as illustrated by similar stones throughout eastern Turkey.
Elborz Mountains (Iran)
Bob Cornuke has suggested that Mount Sulieman in the Elborz Mountains of Iran may be the landing site of the Ark. If the Tower of Babel was located at Babylon, this could be an acceptable location for the Ark because of the mountain’s location east of Babylon, but this is not ideal since it lies significantly northeast of Babylon. Another problem is that Mount Sulieman does not seem to lie within the ancient boundaries of Urartu.
In addition to the popular Ark sites listed above, a variety of other sites have been suggested. These include Al Judi in Saudi Arabia and Mount Judi near Haran. Additionally, the Dasht-e Kavir desert in Iran and the desert of Sadi Arabia are among the proposed Ark sites. These desert sites seem unlikely due to their low elevation.
Searching for the Ark
Many people who believe in the historicity of the biblical account of Noah and the Flood are happy to believe this way from the comfort of their own homes. A few, however, leave their normal lives to search for the Ark. They become totally obsessed with their quest, and some become addicted to the search. It is assumed that the only cure for “Ark fever” would be actually finding the Ark itself.
The search for the Ark is not an easy quest. It demands rigorous physical training and involves high-altitude rock climbing. It requires expensive equipment, extensive travel, and hard-to-obtain government permits. Dangers on the mountain itself include snowstorms, lightning, wind, severe cold, avalanches, wild animals, and altitude sickness. Searching for the Ark is not for the faint of heart. An unfortunate side effect of “Ark fever” is that the constant desire for excitement and glory can lead to intrigue, deceit, and false Ark sightings.
Modern technology has helped alleviate the risks of Ark hunting. Satellite imaging holds great potential in the search for the Ark. However, any Ark-looking object located in this way should be examined by a ground team to authenticate it.
The Ark Itself
What Does the Bible Say?
According to the biblical account (Genesis 6:14), the Ark was a large wooden floating vessel, but there is some debate on the exact dimensions of the Ark. According to Genesis 6:15, the Ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, and 30 cubits high. However, the term cubit has carried a variety of meanings through time, ranging from 14 inches to 26.6 inches. For this reason, it is difficult to know exactly how long a cubit was in Noah’s time. It seems reasonable, but not certain, that it was equivalent to the ancient Mesopotamian cubit, since the Ark likely landed in that region. It seems that the only certain way to discover the actual dimensions of the Ark would be to discover it and measure it.
The shape of the ark is also debatable. The Hebrew word tebah refers to both Noah’s Ark and the basket in which Moses’ mother placed him (Exodus 2:3). It is not the same Hebrew word that refers to boats or ships. The actual meaning of tebah is unknown, although scholars generally assume that it refers to a box of some kind. It could also carry an implication of a place of protection. Artists from the past thousand years have produced a variety of renderings of the Ark. Renaissance writers thought that the Ark was pyramidal in shape. More recent renderings are often barge-like.
Noah built the Ark of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14), but there is no known gopher tree, leaving even the type of wood uncertain. While some researchers assume that it is an unknown variety of tree, others have suggested that it referred to laminated wood, bundles of reeds, or resinous wood.
What Might Remain of the Ark?
If the Ark still exists, there is little agreement as to its state of preservation. There are several possibilities. It could be whole or broken into large pieces. There could be only a few broken planks surviving or only little bits of wood and pitch. If the Ark has survived intact or in large pieces, it must have been somehow protected over the past millennia, since the natural downward movement of ice on the mountain slopes would tend to break up a large ship resting high on the mountain.
Is it Petrified?
Some eyewitnesses have suggested that the Ark was petrified. In order for the Ark to petrify, it would need to be permeated by a mineral-rich solution. This seems unlikely for a ship resting on a mountain side. Furthermore, the pitch coating on the Ark would have made it less likely to absorb a mineral solution.
Is it Still Intact?
Ancient literature refers to the Ark as “the remains,” suggesting that it was not intact even 2000 years ago. Other reports state that ancient pilgrims to the site took small pieces of it as souvenirs and that the last remaining beams of wood were used in the construction of a mosque. If this is true, it would be difficult to locate the original landing site of the Ark, since most, if not all of the remains of the ark are no longer there.
In 1953, Friedrick Bender, a German geologist, climbed Mount Cudi to a location where locals had informed him that he could find pieces of wood from the Ark. He reported that he dug a meter below the snow and discovered crumbly wood remains held together by asphalt- or tar- like substance. If what he found was part of the Ark, then very little remains of it. However, it could be worthwhile to conduct an archaeological excavation at the site.
How Can We Know if Someone Finds the Ark?
Some factors that may come into play in the identification of the Ark are its size, material, and dating of the wood. However, it is possible that not enough of the Ark remains intact to obtain a good measurement. Furthermore, we are not sure what gopher wood is, so it may be hard to identify it based on the material. The possibility exists of using Carbon-14 testing to date the wood of the Ark. However, Carbon-14 dating may be unreliable, especially in the case of the Ark, which was constructed of pre-Flood wood. It seems doubtful that pre-Flood organic material would intake the same ratio of Carbon-14 as today’s organic material, which would drastically upset the clock. For all these reasons, it may be very difficult for researchers and explorers to prove that they found pieces of or artifacts from the Ark.
Continued Interest in the Ark
Within the Bible-believing Christian community, interest in the Ark remains high. News stories frequently feature satellite photos of anomalies on Mount Ararat, while documentaries and films have highlighted the continued search for Noah’s Ark. A half-sized Ark replica is open to visitors in Holland, and Answers in Genesis constructed a full-sized Ark replica in Kentucky.
The Ark cannot have landed on the mountain currently known as Mount Ararat since the mountain likely did not exist until after the Flood. By contrast, Mount Cudi, near Cizre, Turkey, seems to be the most likely Ark landing site. It is doubtful that anyone has actually seen the Ark in modern times, since none of the alleged sightings hold up to close examination.
It is further unlikely that much of the Ark still exists today because of the high probability that erosion and scavengers have largely destroyed it. Unfortunately, problems with Carbon-14 dating may make it difficult to prove that any samples are the right age to have come from the Ark. More archaeological work is required to prove the Ark’s landing spot anywhere. However, it is likely that no matter what is found in any given location, there are those who will remain skeptical. Nevertheless, interest in finding the Ark continues, and the search will go on.
Burdick, C.L. 1967. “Ararat, the Mother of Mountains,” Creation Research Society Quarterly 4(1).
Lanser, Rick. 2006. “The Case for Ararat,” Bible and Spade 19(4), 115–116.
Snelling, A.A. 1992. “Special report: Amazing ‘ark’ expose.” Creation Magazine 14(4), 26–38.