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Associated Press
Chicago Tribune
Page 25

As the season approaches for climbing Mt. Ararat, Noah's Ark fever is running high despite an explorer's claim that he has already found the legendary ship.

This year 73 foreigners, 68 of them Americans, have sought permission from the Turkish government to search for the ark, which, according to the Bible, came to rest on Mt. Ararat after the great flood inundated the Earth.

Ron Wyatt , an anesthetist from Madison, Tenn., said he's sure the ark lies three miles on the southwest side of the mountain at a height of 6,300 feet.

On a trip last summer, Wyatt took samples from the mountain.

"I brought a high-power metal detector which showed metal all around the boat shape, and there were ribs of timber every nine feet all over the boat," he said.

Wyatt, who came here for preparations for an expedition he plans to start in May, said, "It is only a matter of digging it up."

"This is not a guess; it is a fact that this boat formation and everything about it is exactly as it should be for Noah's Ark," Wyatt said.

Although Turkish scholars doubt his claims and a geologist says the boat shape is caused by erosion, Wyatt says the dimensions of the boat shape correspond to the measures given in the biblical book of Genesis. The length is 471 feet and the width 141 feet, he said.

According to Genesis, the ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high. A cubit, an ancient form of measurement, is believed equal to between 18 and 22 inches. That would make the ark at least 450 feet long.

Wyatt said analysis of his samples at the University of Georgia and by Galbraith Laboratories in Knoxville showed that they were decayed wood. A nuclear physicist friend, he said, estimated the samples to be 5,500 to 5,900 years old.

Wyatt plans to return to the site with eight experts, including David Fasold, a marine archeologist from Florida, to X-ray the formation before starting to excavate. The excavation--on the volcano that last erupted in 1840 --will take about five years, he said.

Turkish scholars are skeptical about claims of the ark's discovery. Many believe the explorers are searching at the wrong place.

Prominent Turkish archeologist Ekrem Akurgal said: "Evidence presented by Mr. Wyatt gives the impression that the formation could be an ancient boat. But it is hard to explain how floodwaters could elevate to a height of 6,300 feet and the boat come to rest there."

Akurgal said the human race was not advanced enough 5,000 years ago to build the kind of boat described by Wyatt.

A Turkish geologist, Yilmaz Guner, said the boat-shaped formation could be the result of thousands of years of erosion.

Another Turkish geologist, Suleyman Turkunal, said he thinks Noah's Ark, if it exists at all, must lie somewhere in northern Mesopotamia near Mt. Judi, 200 miles southwest of Ararat.

Ancient Sumerian writings dating to the second millenium B.C. mention a great Mesopotamian flood.

Archeologists have discovered that ancient Sumerian towns on the plains between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were buried in as much as 10 feet of clay, a strong indication of an earlier flood, said Turkish archeologist Sevim Buluc.

The Koran, the Moslem holy book, also recounts the story of Noah and the flood. But it said the boat came to rest on "Judi."

Islamic scholars are uncertain whether "Judi" refers to a particular mountain or is used as a noun to mean a high place, which could be any mountain, theology professor Talat Kocyigit said.

There have been many claims in the past, notably by French explorer Fernand Navarra, that evidence pointing to the ark was discovered on Ararat.

Exploration came to a halt in the late 1960s when the Turkish government refused to give permission for climbs up the mountain after complaints by the Soviet Union about possible spying.

The 16,000-foot-high Mt. Ararat is in a militarily sensitive area in northeast Turkey near the border with the Soviet Union.

Turkish officials lifted the ban in 1982. Since then, mountain climbers and explorers, eager to tackle the mountain, and fundamentalist Christians, seeking to prove the word of the Bible, have rushed to the area.

Among them was former U.S. astronaut James Irwin, who has attempted four climbs already and is expected back this year.

The climbing season is limited because the mountain is covered with ice and snow almost nine months of the year. Climbers generally prefer July and August.


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