The Search for Noah's Ark
by Archpriest S. Lyashevsky
Orthodox Life Vol. 32 No. 1 January/February 1982
Ararat is a cone-shaped mountain of volcanic origin with an elevation of 5,700 metres above sea level. From a level of 4.5 kilometers above the sea to its peak the mountain is covered with permanent ice. If a boat had been beached below this zone of ice it would have disintegrated and vanished without a trace. However, if the vessel had come to a standstill at the peak of the mountain, after the flood, it would have been covered with an immense layer of ice and become inaccessible to man. Divine Providence arranged it that Noah's Ark came to a halt at a height of 5000 metres, where glaciers slide down from the peak and where the icy covering is significantly thinner. In cold years the Ark is covered with ice and snow and is not visible; in warm years during the summer a portion of it becomes exposed, but this is a rare occurrence.
The first information concerning the search for Noah's Ark is provided by the [Chaldean] pagan priest Berose, or Berosus,in 475 B.C. He states that many people of his day and earlier, having climbed to the top of Ararat, saw the Ark of Noah from there and took away portions of it as relics.
In the Christian era, Nicholas of Damascus also testifies to this. Josephus Flavius in his Antiquities of the Jews likewise writes that many had brought portions of the Ark from Ararat. The same testimony is given in 180 A.D. by St. Theophilus of Antioch.
In 1800 an American, Claudius Rich, published the report of Aga Hussein, who claimed to have reached the summit of Ararat and to have seen there the remains of the Ark.
Scientific expeditions to Ararat begin in the year 1829, i.e., at the time of the expedition of Frederic Parrot, a professor at Dorpat University. Two of his expeditions failed to reach the top, but during his third attempt he was successful in reaching what seemed to him to be the site of the Ark; he was, however, unable to verify that this was indeed the spot.
In 1840, a Constantinople newspaper reported the discovery of Noah's Ark. A Turkish expedition, equipped for the study of avalanches on Mt. Ararat, discovered a gigantic wooden frame, almost black in color, jutting out of the glacier. When questioned, the inhabitants of settlements closest to Ararat replied that they were aware of the existence of such a structure, but dared not approach it because they had seen a fierce spirit at the top window. The Turks, in spite of extreme difficulties, did succeed in coming near the Ark and found that it was in good condition and only the sides had been damaged. One member of the team stated that the sides were built of the wood mentioned in Scripture, which, as is known, grows only in the valley of the Euphrates River. Entering the Ark, the members of the expedition came to the conclusion that it was built for the transport of livestock, since the inner area was divided into sections 15 feet high. The Turks were able to enter only three of these rooms because the others were filled with ice. The length of the Ark was 300 "kude" [a Turkish measurement].
In 1893 an archdeacon of the Nestorian Church, Nourri, reported officially that "only the bow and the stern of the ship were accessible, while the central part was caught in the ice." The Ark was constructed of heavy beams of a dark reddish-brown color. Having measured the Ark, Nourri found that its dimensions coincided exactly with those given in the Bible. A company was formed to finance Nourri's second expedition on the condition that the Ark would be brought for exhibition at the Chicago's World Fair. These plans came to nothing, however, due to the Turkish government's refusal to permit the Ark to leave the country.
In August of 1916 a Russian aviator, Vladimir Roskovitsky, while surveying the Turkish boundary, found himself over Ararat and observed a frozen lake on the eastern section of the snow-covered summit. On the edge of this lake the frame of a large ship was visible. A section of the ship was submerged in ice, but the sides were exposed, a portion of them with holes. One of the halves of a double door was visible. When Roskovitsky informed his superiors of this discovery, the latter wanted exact confirmation of it. After a few flights over the mountain they became convinced of the presence of the aforementioned object and sent a report to Moscow and Petrograd. Emperor Nicholas II ordered that an expedition be sent. This expedition took measurements, photographed the Ark and curt off samples, all of which were sent to Petrograd. Unfortunately, the entire assembly of these invaluable documents apparently was destroyed during the Russian Revolution.
The Roskovitsky affair revived during the Second World War. The head of the Soviet camouflage services, Jasper Maskelyn, reported that one of his men flew over Ararat out of curiosity to see whether there was any substance to Roskovitsky's claims. The Soviet pilot also noticed a structure partly submerged in a frozen lake. None of this, however, kept Soviet scientists from classing the history of Noah's Ark as a myth, having nothing whatever to do with science. On July 6, 1955, the alpinist Fernand Navarra together with his eleven-year-old son Raphael located what he believes to be Noah's Ark and brought this discovery to the attention of the whole world. It took Navarra seventeen years to prepare for this expedition. The fact that Ararat is situated on the borders of three countries, Iran, Turkey, and the U.S.S.R, and that an agreement had been reached prohibiting anyone from ascending Ararat, caused great difficulties. Navarra conducted all three of his expeditions secretly, passing through the danger zone during the night. The third, successful, expedition took place as follows:
Having reached the edge of the ice-covered area during the night, according to the directions of his Armenian friend, Navarra set up camp in order to set off in the morning to scale the inaccessible cliffs which were completely covered over with ice. During the night a fierce storm broke out, accompanied by heavy frost, and Navarra and Raphael almost froze, for they were covered by a heavy layer of snow at a temperature of 30° below zero. In the morning, with God's help, as he himself related, he set out for the place which he had seen from afar during one of his first expeditions. It was not an opportune time, however, and everything was covered over with ice and snow. Nevertheless, he succeeded in locating the forbidden area and with great difficulty and risk he cut out of the ice a piece of oaken beam from the ribs of the vessel, one metre long and eight centimeters thick. There were no boards from the trimming at this spot. On the return trip Navarra was shot at and arrested by the border patrol, but was eventually released with all of his photographs and the piece of wood. Such were the circumstances surrounding this expedition.
In laboratories in Cairo and Madrid radioactive analyses of the piece of wood determined that its age was 5000 years.
Navarra's book, published in French, * is illustrated with photographs of the cutting out of the section of the ribs and the area where the Ark lies beneath the ice, as well as photographs of laboratory results, drawings, plans, etc.
Translated from Archpriest S. Lyashevsky, An Attempt at Harmonizing Contemporary Scientific Data with Biblical Accounts in the Light of Recent Excavations and Studies [translated into Serbian]
*Available in English translation: Fernand Navarra, Noah's Ark: I Touched It, Logos International, Plainsfield, N.J. 1974, 137 pp.