Where is the Ark?
Submitted photo For 5,000 years, people have seen a wooden ship on the slopes of Mount Ararat, Turkey but is it Noah's Ark. The summit of the mountain was finally reached in 1829 by Dr. Friedrich Parrot, a Russian-born German physician but he did not see the Biblical ship.
George could not believe his eyes.
Leaping down off his uncle's shoulders, the 10-year-old nervously approached the wooden wall that now towered before him. George saw that this was no natural phenomenon or trick of the light. After an eight-day climb up the sacred mountain they called Ararat, he now stood in the shadow of a massive ship sitting precariously on a ledge. How could it be here, the lad wondered.
In answer to the bewildered look on his nephew's face, the uncle smiled and told him not to be afraid for this was “a holy ship...the animals and people are not here now. They have all gone away.”
The stories George heard as a boy from his grandfather, who was devoted minister in the Armenian Orthodox Church, were all true. This was indeed the Ark than Noah built to escape God's great flood. His uncle boosted the boy up on a pile of rocks. George pulled himself up onto the roof. He then knelt down and kissed it. Before they left, his uncle unslung his rilfe and fired into the side of the ship but the bullets bounced off.
George Hagopian's incredible journey up the holy mountain in 1908 is one of the most famous visitations to the ark. He allegedly returned to the site two years later to place flowers at the site. He described the ark as more like a flat-bottomed barge with a window at the top. George could not find the great door in the side that the animals used to enter and exit the great vessel, however, most of the ship was covered in snow and ice.
It would be decades before George would give his account to journalist Rene Noorbergen. He was later interviewed in the 1960s by researchers Eryl Cummings and Elfred Lee. Hagopian had difficulty reading modern maps and couldn't pinpoint the precise location for researchers. He died in 1972.
The Book of Genesis tells us that God instructed Noah to build a 450-foot long wooden ship, one large enough to take two of every living thing, and seven pairs of every clean creature and of every bird, together with sufficient food. After the flood literally drowned all of creation, the ship floated for 150 days before running aground on the mountains of Ararat. Considering the location is named in the Old Testament, is there any doubt that the mountain, a volanic summit located in eastern Turkey near the border of the Republic of Armenia, is the final resting place of the Ark.
The Persians have called Ararat Kok-I-Nouh, or the “mountain of Noah.” When translated, the Turkish name means “Mountain of the Ark.” The Armenian people have long identified it as the ark's landing place. For instance, the city of Nakhitchevan, located southeast of Mount Ararat, was once called Apobaterion, or “the place of landing.” Legend has it that Noah, his wife, and three sons and their wives, the only humans to survive the flood, made their encampment here once the waters receded. Even Islam concedes that the Ark came to rest in this region, although, the Muslim faith believes the ship is on Mount Djudi, 200 miles south of Ararat in southern Turkey.
The stories of a wooden ship on the mountain have persisted for more than 5,000 years. So why, after all this, is there not definitive proof of the Ark's existence? Why has it remained so elusive. Ararat, afterall, is not Everest or K-2. When George Hagopian and his uncle made their ascent they did it on a pack mule.
The mountain range actually consists of two major volcanic cones: Greater Ararat, which is the highest peak in Turkey at 16,854 feet, and Little Ararat, with an elevation of 12,782 feet. The Ararat massif is about 22 miles wide at ground base. So it is still considerable ground to cover. And if we could use a mountain analogy, Noah's Ark truly is the Everest of archeology. The only other artifact more sacred on earth is that “other” ark – the Ark of the Covenant.
Melville Bell Grosvenor, the late president of the National Geographic Society and grandson of Alexander Graham Bell, once famously declared that, “If the ark of Noah is discovered, it will 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.”
References to the Ark can be found throughout history. In 475 BC, local priests ministering in the region wrote of seeing the remains of a wooden ship at the bottom of a glacier on Ararat. The 3rd century historian and astronomer Berossus referred to the Ark in his writings stating: “But of this ship that grounded in Armenia, some part if it still remains.”
The 1st Century scholar and hagiographer, Flavius Josephus, claimed the Ark had been partially dismantled, however, he insisted, “a portion of the vessel still survives ... on the mountains ... and that persons carry off pieces of (it) which they use as talismans.”
In 180 AD, Saint Theophilus, the Bishop and Patriarch of Antioch, documented the ship in his writings: “And of the Ark, the remains are to this day to be seen in the Arabian mountains.”
In the 4th century, John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, expressed his belief that the Ark was still on Ararat writing: “Do not the mountains of Armenia testify to it, where the Ark rested? And are not the remains of the Ark preserved there to this very day for our admonition.”
Not all the early references point to Ararat as home of the Ark. Roman records suggest Heraclius, the 7th century Byzantine Emperor, travelled to Ararat where he set up camp at Temanin (which translated means “place of the eight” signifying the number of humans aboard the Ark). He then climbed Jabal Judi (which historians believe is Mount Djudi to see the “place where the Ark had landed.”
Others also contended that Mount Djudi was home to the Ark. In the 9th century, Eutychius, Bishop of Alexandria stated that the “Ark rested on the mountains of Ararat, that is Jabal Judi near Mosul.” An early Christian sect called the Nestorians were so convinced that they built monasteries around Mount Djudi including one called “The Cloister of the Ark.”
But the Armenian monk Jehan Haithon stated he could, with the naked eye, see the Ark from the base of the mountain. In 1245 AD, Haithon wrote: “No one can climb this mountain because of the great quantity of snow on it winter and summer. But at the summit a great black object is always visible, which is said to be the ark of Noah.”
Even the great Italian merchant and explorer Marco Polo was convinced that the Ark sat on Ararat. On his way to China, Marco, his father and uncle passed through eastern Turkey where locals told him stories of Noah's great ship.
“In the heart of Greater Armenia is a very high mountain, shaped like a cube, on which Noah’s ark is said to have rested, whence it is called the Mountain of Noah’s Ark,” Polo wrote in “Book of the Marvels of the World” published around 1300 AD. “The mountain is so broad and long that it takes more than two days to go around it. On the summit the snow lies so deep all the year round that no one can ever climb it; this snow never entirely melts, but new snow is for ever falling on the old, so that the level rises.”
For all the stories and legends, it wasn't until Oct. 9, 1829 that the first climbers in recorded history reached Ararat's summit. The expedition was led by Dr. Friedrich Parrot, a Russian-born German physician and professor at the University of Dorpat in Russia, who successfully ascended the mountain's northwest slope accompanied by the noted Armenian writer Khachatur Abovian. Neither men, nor the two Russian soldiers or their Armenian guides, saw the Ark. This had been Parrot's third attempt to reach the summit after being turned back by weather while going up the northeast slope.
Parrot was determined to complete his mission in order to debunk the religious beliefs of the Armenians who warned the doctor he would never reach his destination because God protected the Ark. However, Abovian was convinced they were on holy ground and carried down with him a chunk of ice. Nevertheless, the expedition did set up base camp at the Monastery of St. Hakob, which was situated at 6,700 feet above sea level. The monks showed Parrot relics of wood that had been recovered from the Ark (the monastery was destroyed in an earthquake in 1840. Eight years later, Abovian mysteriously disappeared from his home).
The next expedition to reach the summit was Karl Behrens in 1835 who had been financed by the Imperial Russian Geographical Society. He reported no sightings of the Ark. A 60-man Russian military expedition ascended Ararat 15 years later but found nothing on the mountain. In 1877, British explorer James Bryce made a solo ascent and recovered what he claimed was a piece of timber at 13,000 feet. He brought the four-foot long petrified timber back to London to be displayed in a museum. Scientists weren't ready to accept that it came from Noah's Ark.
One of the more stranger expeditions was led by Prince Joseph Nouri, the archdeacon of Babylon. Reaching the summit in 1887, the prince claimed he found the Ark buried underneath rock and ice and even entered it. He brought no physical evidence back but began raising money to spend on an expedition that would eventually remove the Ark from the mountain and transport it to the 1893 Chicago's World Fair. He died from pneumonia while in a mental hospital soon after.
Interest in the fate of Noah's Ark grew as a new century was dawning. But would extraordinary advances in aerospace and technology bring mankind any closer to the lost vessel on Mount Ararat?
Next column: What did a Russian pilot and Chinese scientists find on the slopes of Ararat?