Caution about ‘Ark’ discoveryPublished: 5 July 2006 (GMT+10)
A group of Texas adventurers announced last week that they found the remains of Noah’s Ark on the slopes of a rugged mountain in Iran. The fourteen-man expedition, led by explorer and speaker Dr Bob Cornuke, returned with video and photographic evidence of a black object 400 ft long and 13,120 feet above sea level, as well as samples of the ‘wooden beams’.
The team included well-known leaders from business, law and Christian ministry, including Barry Rand (former CEO of Avis), Josh McDowell (author and Christian apologist), Frank Turek (author), Boone Powell (former CEO of Baylor Medical Systems), and Arch Bonnema (president of Joshua Financial).1
The group made the discovery, not at the traditional Mount Ararat site in eastern Turkey, but in the Elburz Mountain range north of Tehran in northern Iran.
The traditional site has been the focus of numerous expeditions last century, but virtually nothing has been found for all the money and effort. One notable ship-shaped structure in that vicinity, claimed by Ron Wyatt to be Noah’s Ark, was subsequently shown to be a natural geological structure that happened to be about the right size. See Special Report: Amazing Ark Expose.
Dr Cornuke is president of the Bible Archaeology Search and Exploration (BASE) Institute, a Christian archeology organization dedicated to looking for biblical artifacts. He concluded, after studying the biblical account, that the ark would not be located in Turkey. So, this expedition focused on a region in northern Iran, which he claims was the mountains of Ararat in biblical times. Others have suggested mountains in south-eastern Turkey as the landing place of the Ark, Mt Cudi in particular.2
Team member Arch Bonnema, also of the BASE institute, is reported to have said, “I can’t imagine what it could be if it is not the Ark.”3
So, what did they find?
The web report by Brannon Howse reads, “The arkish object is about 400 feet long and consists of rocks that look remarkably like blackened wood beams while other rock in the area is distinctively brown. And one visible piece is “cut” at a 90-degree angle. Even more intriguing, some of the wood-like rocks were tested just this week and actually proved to be petrified wood, and it is noteworthy that Scripture recounts Noah sealed his ark with pitch—a decidedly black substance. Upon being cut open, one of these “rocks” also divulged a marine fossil that could have only originated undersea.”1
Bob Cornuke said the object appeared similar to the Bible’s description of the Ark. “Some of those rocks look like they’ve been cut at right angles, and even beams and others look like pieces of log … We just found what could be the carcass of the ark.”
Bonnema said, “These beams not only look like petrified wood, they are so impressive that they look like real wood—this is an amazing discovery that may be the oldest shipwreck in recorded history.”
Commendably, the team has published on the web numerous photos of the object1, including close-up shots of the alleged beams, etc.
A creationist geologist’s assessment
From my perusal of the photos, (and I can only go from the pictures, not having visited the site), the object does not look like Noah’s Ark to me. The black object looks like a rock outcrop, and the close-up shots of the ‘beams’ suggest that the whole area has been sheared by tectonic movement, causing folding and metamorphism.
The beams with their hewn surfaces at right angles look like rock that has fractured along cleavage planes. It is just fortuitous that the resultant pieces look like wooden beams. In fact, there is an abundance of broken pieces of rock in the pictures, and most of them are smaller than beams. One of the pictures has the distinctive appearance of folded rock, not wood.
When a large region, such as a mountain range, is uplifted, the rock strata are sheared and metamorphosed by the immense forces involved. A new texture develops in the rock strata.
The new texture often involves parallel ‘cracks’, like the pages in a book, or a heap of timber planks, depending on the type of rock and the degree of metamorphism. This texture is called foliation. Once a rock is foliated, it tends to fracture along these planes.
Most people would be familiar with the way that metamorphic rocks such as shale and slate fracture. Sometimes a region can experience multiple folding and the rocks can have fracture planes in two directions and the broken pieces can look like timber when they break.
The figure below is an example of a metamorphosed rock from Thailand which has fractures that make it look like planking.4 The surface of the planks even looks like wood grain, but it is not wood. The rocks have been sheared by earth movements. The picture comes from a report by Lacassin et al.5 It’s the middle picture on the second row of that web page. There are other pictures of sheared rocks on that page that look a bit like wood.
One of the team members, Reg Lyle, an oil and gas geologist, seems a little coy about saying the find is definitely Noah’s Ark. He reportedly said, “The object appears to be a basalt dike, however, it is absolutely uncanny that the object looks like hand hewn timbers, even the grain and color look just like petrified wood … I really need to keep an open mind about this.”
Another report spoke of a “monstrous black formation which looks like rock but bears the amazing image of hundreds of massive, wooden, hand-hewn beams.”
If the black object is the petrified remains of the wooden Ark, how was it petrified? To petrify, the timber would need to be surrounded by a mineral-rich solution and absorb it into its pore structure. It is difficult to conceive of how that could happen for a timber structure sitting on the side of the mountain. If the Ark still existed high in a mountain somewhere, it is more likely its timber would be exposed to rain and snow which would not contain the minerals to petrify it. Superficially, the ‘beams’ appear more likely to be rock, hardened at depth and uplifted toward the end of the Flood.
I would like to see more details about the tests that were claimed to show the material was petrified wood. Normally one would make thin samples of the ‘wooden beams’ and examine them under a microscope. It should be fairly straightforward to distinguish between metamorphosed rock and petrified wood.
Another check would be to geologically map the area (but this would not be possible in the absence of another expedition to the site). If the black object is indeed a basalt dike, it should be possible to trace this for some distance by finding other outcrops. Also, if the ‘beams’ have simply fractured along foliation planes in the strata, it should be possible to check other rock outcrops for similar foliation, and to determine the geological fold ‘structure’ of the region.
I believe we need to be cautious about this latest claim of finding Noah’s Ark. It may turn out that the object is simply a rock outcrop that happens to be about the same size as Noah’s Ark, and that happens to have some geologic characteristics that make the rock look like wood. There are more questions that need to be answered before a definite verdict can be reached about the validity of this claim.
- Howse B.S., Noah’s Ark? For Real, worldviewweekend.com, accessed 2006. Return to text.
- Crouse, B., The landing place, J. Creation 15(3):10–18, 2001. Return to text.
- Cuomo, C., Has Noah’s Ark Been Found? Christian Archaeology Team Believes It Has Found the Ark, ABC News for “Good Morning America”; abcnews.go.com, 29 June 2006. Return to text.
- Lacassin, R., Maluski, H., Leloup, P.H., Tapponnier, P., Hinthong, C., Siribhakdi, K., Chuaviroj, S. and Charoenravat, A., Tertiary diachronic extrusion and deformation of western Indochina: Structural and 40Ar/39Ar evidence from NW Thailand, J. Geophys. Res. 102(B5):10013–10037, May 1997. Return to text.
- Lacassin, R., et al., Tertiary extrusion tectonics of NW Thailand, pgp.jussieu.fr, accessed 2006. Return to text.