‘The Incredible Discovery of Noah’s Ark’: An Archaeological Quest?

By Richard A. Fox

Culled from the “Free Enquiry”, Summer 1993:43-48


“Babylonia”, written in Greek about 275 B.C.E., is lost, but later chroniclers quoted Berosus. His flood story is a Sumerian version roughly paralleling the biblical account (see Dundes 1988:42-43). The hero was Xisuthrus (i.e., Xiusudra). The ark, wrote Berosus, came to rest in “the land of Armenia.” Mt.Ararat is located in what was ancient Armenia, formerly the kingdom of Ararat (see Bailey 1989). Berosus, however, identified the Corcyraean mountains (i.e., Gordyaeans), also in Ararat, as the landing spot, not the Ararat range (see Dundes 1988:43). The Gordyaeans are more than two hundred miles south (roughly) of Mt.Ararat.


Note here that the Genesis reference – “mountains of Ararat” – could refer to the kingdom, not the range and certainly not the peak. Indeed, in Jeremiah 51:27, Ararat is called exactly that – a kingdom. Clearly Berosus had a different understanding than do today’s ark hunters, “Professor” Vleit included. Why they insist on combing Mt.Ararat is indeed a mystery.


Berosus’s version might well prompt the frugal archaeologist planning to find Noah’s ark to ask: a question: Are there more accounts putting the vessel somewhere other than Mt.Ararat? Of course, but “Incredible” ignored them all. Ancient Christian, Jewish, and Muslim sources put the ark on various peaks, ranges, or districts stretching from Ceylon to Arabia (see Bailey 1989 61-81). Some even record ark wood finds!


The Mt.Ararat tradition is evidently the latest. Bailey (1987:81) has traced its origin to the eleventh century C.E. (although seventh-ninth century timbers from Mt Ararat might put it earlier). Sources citing the Gordyaeans are more numerous, so the archaeologist might well decide to begin there. Conversely, Mt.Ararat might be a last resort, since the tradition is further removed in time from the event. More likely, the archaeologist would investigate what it is on Mt Ararat that dates to medieval times.


Like the producer of “Incredible,” I find no difficulty in straying from the archaeological “quest.” A Dr. Walter Brown (“professor emeritus, physics”) presented a breathtaking synopsis of his “hydroplate theory.” Fancy graphics illustrated how subterranean waters ten miles deep burst through mid-ocean fissures and inundated the Earth. Not much need be said about Brown. Geologists will pick his nonsense apart. Rather, I will emphasize the subtle ploy used by the scriptwriters. After Brown finished, the narrator capped it off: “The demonstration you have just seen … supports the biblical story of the deluge in every detail.” Of course! All Brown did was recklessly rip hard-won knowledge from legitimate science (e.g., plate tectonics, glaciology) and force it into the biblical framework.


Brown never did provide a mechanism to trigger his floodwater eruptions. The scriptwriters remedied that. A David Coppedge (“astronomer”) set the stage for Brown, explaining that any one of a hundred ancient meteorite impact sites on Earth could have produced a cataclysmic event. Then Brown appeared, mechanism in hand. Predictably, Coppedge failed to consider why the hundred impacts did not produce one hundred global floods. Astronomer Coppedge, evidently without academic credentials, stood next to a small stargazer’s telescope as he pontificated. A Mt. Wilson Observatory set would have imparted more authority.


Several “experts” were, like Coppedge, less dazzling than Brown. Addressing the knotty problem of ark space, Whitcomb insisted that the Bible does not say all species boarded the vessel. He excluded fish and “major” insect varieties. No evidence or reasons — just sweep-of-the-hand authority.


The ark: space problem occupied Dr. Kenneth Ebel (“professor of biology”). He noted that each “family” extant today has a single pair of ancestors. The-hundred varieties of dogs, for example, have a single common ancestor. Then Ebel made a deceptive shift. The only “taxon” mentioned in the Bible is “kinds.” Scientific creationists have a tough time with this, Ebel included. “Kinds” (compare family above), said Ebel, were put aboard the ark. These “kinds” then, were the ancestors of all the “species” (compare variety above) that we know today. So there was plenty of room on that ark. With a sweep of his hand, Ebel rewrote the binomial classification system. Families became species and species became varieties, and genera vanished. Ebel’s obfuscation would lead taxonomists to classify him as a “scientific” creationist, not a professor of biology.


A Dr. Ken Cummings, also a “professor of biology,” explained another tricky issue. How did animals from every corner of the Earth make it to the ark? They instinctively sensed an impending disaster and were led or driven to safety (i.e., right to the ark). Evidently the two lucky survivors of each “kind” were genetically endowed with powerful instincts. Just as clearly these favorable genes did not survive. Today, millions of animals everywhere are wiped out annually by catastrophic floods, wholesale fires, and the like.


Then there is the matter of being on time. Instinct had to kick in early for those most distant from the ark, maybe decades for turtles. Nonetheless, Cummings may be on to something. Mark Twain (1962:24) suggested that the super-sensitive instincts of dinosaurs provoked these beasts — all of them, not just pairs — into a frenzied, headlong stampede toward the ark. Imagine the havoc they would have wreaked. Fortunately, Noah learned of this and wisely sailed without them. Besides, as Twain wrote and to which Whitcomb can attest, the ancient mariner was under no obligation to admit all and so the dinosaurs became extinct.


Roger Oakland (“author/science professor”) testified to the variable evidence for a global flood. Even the fossil record shows it! Worldwide, fish and animals were buried suddenly in “swimming positions.” Most of us can probably accept the swimming fish. For animals, however, Oakland cited the “most dramatic” example, a Nebraska site where rhinos, hippos, and zebras were buried in “swimming positions” by “volcanic ash.” What tephra has to do with global flooding he did not say. Nor did Oakland define an animal’s “swimming position.”


Oakland further noted, in references to the terrifying flood, that in Scotland “tons of fish have been found in positions of terror, fins extended and eyes bulging.” Ethologists may notice a rather strong anthropomorphic bias here. Speaking of anthropomorphism, Oakland did not consider why human skeletons are never found in swimming positions. In any case, I recall occasionally seeing rather calm fish swimming about with extended fins and bulging eyes, though not tons of them.


These examples are representative of the nonarchaeological content. There is also the laughable model ark test that “proved” that an ark built to biblical specifications could survive the roughest seas ever. Space does not allow a look at the “scientific” creationists’ water vapor canopy theory (it went from biblical clue to certainty in minutes). Neglected also is Grant Richard’s (“geologist/geophysicist”) ignorance of orogenic processes (he claims that water-formed lava and salt crystals on Mt.Ararat prove the flood), and much more nonsense.


Such “theories” expose the biggest single problem confronting “scientific” creationists. In order to appear scientific, they cannot suspend natural laws; they cannot invoke the powers of an omnieverything being in order to get animals to the ark, to supply floodwaters, or whatever. That is religion, not science. The restriction results in torturous proofs of the improbable, if not the impossible, everything dressed up as science.


“Incredible” had to face a more worldly problem. “Thousands,” as one “expert” said, have sought the ark. On the other hand, no one has ever produced it. This vexation was handled in two ways. Ark: eyewitnesses were sprinkled throughout the two hours, reinforcing the Noah’s ark claim through repetition. At the same time, repetition avoided consolidating what are essentially two millennia of negative findings.


Next, the filmmakers’ employed what I call the “rotten luck” syndrome. Just as the ark’s physical remains are about to be revealed, something adverse intervenes. “Incredible” used an inhospitable mountain, a dangerous and uncertain climb, an earthquake, uncooperative weather, tricky glacial ice, inopportune deaths, low aircraft fuel, the Russian revolution, fear of death, lost proofs, religious persecution, Turkish political strife, terrorism, bandits, and the U.S. government’s refusal to release incontrovertible proof of the ark (it would betray our sophisticated spying technology).


In the end, though, what about the ancient sources, the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century eyewitnesses, the past sojourns, the photographs, and the previous calculations? Well, these are old news. Though they prove the existence of Noah’s ark, too many people continue to be skeptical. So “Incredible” would chronicle new “archaeological” expeditions equipped with modern technology. And so we were introduced to five new eyewitnesses, plus state-of-the-art satellite photo proofs.


The new eyewitnesses, not one an archaeologist, seemed sincere enough. But the usual caveats apply. People often see what they want to see, especially religious zealots. Also, things get garbled; what is seen is not necessarily what is reported. Sometimes people simply fabricate stories, playing on what folks want to hear. As well, eyewitnesses are not always capable of comprehending what they see, and so on. But the most damaging case against these new witnesses lies in results. Like all before, not one produced an ark or information leading to an ark.


Much was made of the late James Irwin’s photograph. The program played masterfully on Irwin’s deep spiritual convictions, his dedication to discovery, his career, and his untimely death. The skillful emotional weave helped to convince us that the astronaut had indeed captured Noah’s ark on film. Irwin had wanted to confirm his find. Then death intervened, the somber narrator reminded us. A tragedy, indeed, but with such conclusive evidence at hand, what about a follow-up by colleagues? “Incredible” made no mention of such.


The other photographic “proof” segments reminded me of the story about the emperor’s new clothes. Even with photo enhancements, l seldom saw an object. Yet the analysts insisted something was there, probable an ark. One segment reduced a French satellite image to a handful of pixels. Using a pointer, the analyst carefully outlined an “ark-like” object protruding from a pixel of known size. The object’s dimensions, he assured us, closely paralleled ark specifications. Expecting, I am sure, that few would see anything (I saw nothing), a telestrator finally drew it in.


And so “Incredible” ended. Like the old proofs, the new bore no semblance to archaeology. Rather, the program abused my profession and insulted its practitioners. And CBS is responsible. What does archaeology really say about a global inundation and the rejuvenation of world populations through Noah’s lineage? Wherever post-deluge sites exist, they must lie above flood deposits. The prediction is fatal to the historicity of a biblical flood and Noah’s harrowing voyage. Few buried sites in my part of the world lie above flood sediments of any kind. I guarantee that the situation holds everywhere. Archaeology joins all historical sciences in refuting the claims made in this abysmal, irresponsible production.










And here we end the culled article. My comments follow in Article IV. I shall focus specifically on the examination of the biblical verses in Genesis in conjunction with the Gilgamesh Epic in particular, and the contradiction therein due to two different floods myths conjoined into the Noah flood myth.


Andy C.Y. Kwawukume

[email protected]



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