Sunday, 20 August 2017

Ararat: The Mountain Where Noah’s Journey Ended

Text by Albena Shkodrova | Photographs by Anthony Georgieff   
Eastern Turkey, 10 kilometres from the Iranian border. The raven-strewn landscape is a barren yellowish red. On one side rises Ararat, the twin-topped dormant volcano that is rightly considered as one of the world’s most impressive sights. Its taller summit, Büyük Agri Dagi, or Great Ararat, is swathed in cloud. The smaller one, Küçük Agri Dagi, or Little Ararat, is visible through mist. The sun is searing through the thin air at this elevation. The thin monolithic cones rise some 3,000 metres above the green plateau at their foot where sheep and horses graze.

A road divides the plain from the bare red hills that spread for some 50 kilometres into the Turkish interior. This is Musa Dağı: the area in which controversial American amateur archaeologist Ron Wyatt claimed to have discovered the remains of Noah’s Ark.

According to Wyatt’s theory, peppered liberally with Old Testament references, as The Deluge subsided, the Ark circled Ararat until the falling tide took it to the lower foothills facing the summit, later to be encapsulated in lava from a nearby volcanic eruption.

A steep road leads to the site of the assumed remains of the Ark. After the last village of Uzengili, the tarmac ends and the road starts weaving between the hills on the way to the Iranian border which runs along the crest of the Musa Dağı.

The legend of Noah and his family is perhaps the best known part of the Old Testament. Disappointed with the world He had created, God instructed Noah to construct a timber Ark and gather in it pairs of all the animal species. Noah obeyed, and over the coming 150 days the world was swept away by a great flood known as The Deluge. The animals saved by Noah began procreating, once again repopulating the world. Noah’s Ark remained a favourite inspiration to hundreds of artists throughout history.
Three kilometres further is a small visitor centre where an improvised exhibition presents Wyatt’s views on what is possibly the best-known Old Testament legend. The centre is kept by Hasan Baba, Hasan the Older, a venerable moustachioed Kurd. Hasan has been here ever since the museum was set up, and his presence is paramount, for it is only with the aid of his index finger and his explanations that one is able to recognise what Ron Wyatt and his follower Bill Fry identified as the remains of the Old Testament vessel.

In the grass, about a hundred metres southeast of the visitor centre, a regular-shaped rock formation that resembles a ship’s deck can be distinguished. According to the American researcher, this is part of the Ark’s hull. The find is some 30 kilometres south of Ararat in a straight line.

In the same area, Ron Wyatt felt he had also found eight of the Ark’s giant anchors, and also the abode of Noah and his wife. The story of this find, disputed by many professional archaeologists, is seeped in mystery.

Wyatt first arrived in Eastern Turkey in 1977, 17 years after a Turkish army captain had recognised the Ark on an aerial photograph of the locality. An expedition that included American scientists visited the site later and rejected the hypothesis that the item was man-made.

On his first visit, Wyatt did not know exactly where to look. The eastern parts of Turkey, home to rebellious Kurds, were not a particularly inviting tourist destination at the time. According to the amateur archaeologist and his supporters, he and his two sons arrived in Dogubayazit, the nearest Turkish town, and got in a taxi without a very clear idea of where they were heading. As the three began praying in the car, the engine suddenly cut out. The three Americans took this as a divine message, got out of the taxi, piled a heap of stones on the spot observed by their amazed driver, and got back in.

Shortly after, the taxi came to a stop once more, and its occupants left a sign by the roadside again. When the cab stopped a third time things began looking less like divine omens and more like what one could expect from a broken-down Turkish taxi. Nevertheless, they also marked the third spot with stones.

Over the three days to come, Wyatt searched the environs of the three stone heaps, making three consecutive discoveries.

First, he found eight stones which looked like the ancient anchors archaeologists find around the Mediterranean. The difference was that the new anchors were several times larger. Apart from the regular shape of the holes through which the ship’s rope is assumed to have been threaded, they had crosses carved into them.

The second find was a structure with unusually long stone shelters leading away from it. On the basis of Old Testament passages, Wyatt decided that this had to be Noah’s abode. Near the house he found a large altar as mentioned in the sacred book, and the walls most likely penned the animals the Ark carried.

Most sensational were two large stones found by the house door. The American felt they were the gravestones of Noah and his wife. On their upper parts were carved the outlines of a ship, with crooked lines resembling waves below it. Eight people were shown walking away from the ship – two large outlines of a man and a woman, and two threesomes of lesser male and female figures. Wyatt interpreted the carvings as an iconographic depiction of the eight Flood survivors.

The sole difference between the two stones’ carvings was that one featured the assumed wife of Noah with her eyes closed, and the other, again with eyes closed, depicted the hypothetical Noah.

On the third day, the American extreme adventure fan discovered the fossilised shape that had excited scientists back in 1960.

This was the beginning. Months later, an earthquake in eastern Turkey cleared the ground around the assumed Ark, causing it – as Wyatt claimed, to rise against its surroundings. There followed dozens of expeditions to study the discovery. The crushing argument in favour of the bold theory was that the American researcher claimed the dimensions of the ship entirely coincided with those mentioned in the Bible. The expeditions found evenly-spaced traces in the stone, resembling the ribs of a ship’s hull. Metal detectors and later ultrasound searches suggested the presence of a set of metal parts in the object’s interior. Among the evidence exhibited in the museum are remains of maritime fauna found nearby which prove that the site had been submerged in a sea.

A hypothesis formulated over the past 20 years traces the legend of the Flood to a natural disaster in the Black Sea area. Scientists assume that this sea may once have been a fresh water lake separated from the Mediterranean and the Sea of Marmara by the natural dam of the Bosphorus. Some 8,600 years ago, this wall collapsed under the pressure of higher water levels in the Mediterranean. Salt water rushed in and reinforced by Atlantic tides gradually turned the lake into a sea. This event, which most likely led to great loss of life among the civilisation around the erstwhile lake, may have born the legend of The Deluge.
Most archaeologists reject Wyatt’s claims, popularised after his death in 1999 by his follower Bill Fry. Scientists claim that their amateur colleague failed to present any of the evidence on which he based his conclusions. The scientific world is yet to see the “wagonloads” of fossilised ship’s beams. Analyses of items removed from the site were botched and remain unreliable, whereas the initial results of radar surveys were inconclusive and failed to be confirmed by repeated surveys.

The evenly-spaced traces resembling the imprints of a ship’s ribs may just as well be the consequence of geological processes. A crushing argument against Wyatt’s theory is that Noah’s biblical antiquity preceded the Iron Age.

American scientist David Fasold, who also studied the finds, initially accepted they may indeed represent the Ark. He then conducted a thorough geological analysis and rejected the theory entirely. Among his findings is that the anchors are of local origin, rather than being from Mesopotamia, as those of the Old Testament vessel would have to have been.

If you have but a drop of religion in your makeup, you will most likely never forget your first encounter with Hasan Baba. If you are a non-believer, the trip to the Musa Dağı would be pleasant and diverting at the very least. In the latter case, you may hum the black spiritual Rock My Soul while you wait for your car’s engine to cool down after climbing the steep road.

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