God, Science and the Bible: Has Noah's ark been found buried under ice on Mt. Ararat?

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Has Noah's ark been found buried under ice on Mt. Ararat?

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Over a span of more than 150 years, there have been at least a hundred eyewitness accounts of people claiming to have seen an arklike structure high up on Mt. Ararat in eastern Turkey. But bringing convincing evidence to the fore has proved elusive.

However, on April 25, 2010, a team of Chinese explorers from Hong Kong–based Noah's Ark Ministries International (NAMI) along with Turkish climbers and authorities held a news conference in which they announced the discovery of what they believe are large sections of Noah's ark found above the 13,000-foot level on Mt. Ararat.

Yeung Wing-Cheung, a member of the NAMI team, says the wooden structure has several compartments, some of which may have been used to house animals. "It's not 100 percent [sure] that it is Noah's Ark, but we think it is 99.9 percent that this is it," he told the press.

They revealed photographs, film footage and wood specimens that, according to them, were dated by carbon-14 tests to 4,800 years ago. The film showed the explorers entering various compartments that they said they think are sections of Noah's legendary ship.

Of course, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary proof. Further exploration and testing by a broader spectrum of researchers is needed. The photographic and video evidence presented as of this writing is impressive but could conceivably be part of an elaborate—and rather expensive—hoax. Yet what if the find proves to be genuine?

If true, the fallout would be mind-boggling. Gilbert Grosvenor, the first editor of National Geographic magazine, once said that "the discovery of Noah's Ark would be the greatest archaeological find in human history, the greatest event since the resurrection of Christ, and it would alter all the currents of scientific thought."

So what are we to make of all this?

The story of the discovery as it has been presented begins in, of all unlikely places, Hong Kong. There a Chinese evangelical billionaire, Thomas Kwok, and associates founded the Chinese exploration group NAMI. It's reported that the organization's first team climbed Mt. Ararat in 2004 and that they made a number of ascents and spent months searching during the years following but didn't find anything of significance.

Then in June 2008, they tell us, they made a breakthrough. A Turkish guide they had hired in the past told them his team had discovered a wooden structure at an undisclosed location. So in October 2008 he took his team of Turkish climbers and a Chinese professional mountain climber sent by NAMI to the site, where they claimed they had found a large structure high on the mountain.

Panda Lee, the Chinese mountain climber on the expedition, gave this account at the April press conference: "In October 2008, I climbed the mountain with the Turkish team. At an elevation of more than 4,000 meters, I saw a structure built with plank-like timber. Each plank was about eight inches wide. I could see tenons, proof of ancient construction predating the use of metal nails.

"We walked about 100 meters to another site. I could see broken wood fragments embedded in a glacier, and some 20 meters long. I surveyed the landscape and found that the wooden structure was permanently covered by ice and volcanic rocks."

It was further explained that with winter closing in, it was too late in the year to do much follow-up exploration. In October 2009 the 15-member team, including a Chinese film crew, purportedly reached the site, where most were able to descend through tunnels in the ice and rock to enter parts of the structure.

They report finding massive wooden construction spanning, as far as they could tell, about 150 feet (about one third of the length the Bible records for the ark). The explorers state that they went from room to room, sometimes though crude openings or even small doors. In the video footage they point out frozen white pellets littering the floor, which could possibly be grain used to feed animals or seeds for future planting.

In one room they saw wooden stairs that apparently led to another floor. Another room even had a wooden hatch in the ceiling that they said they couldn't pry open, but which also presumably led to an upper level. Video footage also shows the explorers finding shelves, pottery and remains of ancient ropes.

Obviously a great deal more research and scientific testing needs to be done, though conditions on the mountain make further exploration incredibly difficult. It was stated that further investigations and scientific expeditions are planned for later this year when climbing conditions on Mt. Ararat are at their optimum.

In a telephone interview with John McIntosh, a longtime U.S.-based ark researcher, he expressed mixed feelings about the find. While he is impressed with the overall evidence presented, he still has concerns such as the relatively modern appearance of some of the wood shown, possible discrepancies of the carbon-14 dating, no filming of the outside or exposed sections of the ark (NAMI says this is to keep the location concealed until it can be protected) and persistent rumors from Turkish guides that some wood had been transported up the mountain.

In a May 11 press conference in Holland he commented: "Presently, to me, it seems nearly impossible that the large wood wall areas and very large timbers could have been planted as has been suggested by some of the local people at the mountain. The compartments are at such an inaccessible and difficult location, with different levels evident, it seems to me that it is unlikely that they are related to any explainable normal mountain construction such as for shelter or animals.

"All that has been discovered, filmed and photographed needs independent verification. It is my understanding that the Chinese researchers are planning to coordinate their research with Turkish scholars so that this can be done. In my opinion, other wood samples need to be taken and tested, along with other materials from the site. This site might indeed be some of the remains of Noah's ark—but further exploration and research needs to be done to be certain what is here."

Again, there is no way to know right now if this find is genuine or a fraud. Time will tell whether an elaborate hoax is underway or if the ark of Noah has actually been found. GN