Science in the 21st century has managed to find data on what the real “Noah’s Ark” was like. And it turns out that the ark didn’t look like it had been traditionally depicted for centuries. Instead, its real dimensions and practicality became clear.
In 1872, a British Museum employee, George Smith, deciphered the Sumerian “Epic of Gilgamesh” and discovered a clear similarity between this epic and the biblical story of Noah. This became a sensation, as it was revealed that the flood tradition relies on written sources from older civilizations. After this, other confirmations were found. Thus, in the first half of the 20th century, archaeological expeditions in Iraq discovered traces of a large flood dating back at least 5000 years. Specifically, it was a large area in which archaeologists found several meters of river silt, but the flood datings in different Sumerian cities turned out to be different. For instance, in Ur it was 3500 BC, in Uruk 2900 BC, in Shuruppak 2700 BC, in Kish 2500 BC, leading to the conclusion that there were many floods, and the legend seems to summarize them all. However, it was later found that the basis of the legend was not an ordinary river flood, but a much more massive cataclysm, which was detailed in the article “Why did Noah sail to Ararat?“.
And so, at the beginning of the 21st century, a researcher from the British Museum, Professor Irving Finkel, was able to read a description of the vessel that saved its owner from the flood on a Babylonian clay tablet, which is 3700 years old. The name of the hero is Atrahasis, which translates as “extremely wise”. This is one of the versions of the real prototype of Noah’s name in Akkadian, i.e., Babylonian tradition, just like the Sumerian Ziusudra and the Assyrian Utnapishtim.
The Akkadian poem about Atrahasis was found in the 1880s during the excavation of ancient Sippar. Its text was created in the 17th century BC, during the reign of the Babylonian king Ammi-Saduqa (1647 — 1626 BC), and occupies three tablets — about 1000 lines.
The tablet read by Finkel had about 60 lines of cuneiform and was discovered in the Middle East in the late 1940s by amateur historian Leonard Simmons during his service in the Royal Air Force. Sixty years later, in 2008, Simmons’s son Douglas gave the tablet to Finkel. It is the size of a small rectangle the size of a palm and dates back to about 1750 BC.
In total, several dozen cuneiform tablets are known, which outline the story of the flood that served as the basis for the biblical legend. However, as Finkel claims, this is the first one to describe the appearance of the vessel. And here the most interesting part begins.
Following the instructions and drawings of the god of wisdom
In this rendition of the Akkadian myth about the flood, the god of wisdom Ea-Enki tells King Atrahasis to destroy his house and build a boat from it, and to disregard his property in order to save his life. Atrahasis replies that he is not a builder, asks Enki for instructions and an exact drawing with dimensions and gets it. According to the god, the boat should have reed walls and be round: its width and length should be the same.
“Destroy your labour (house), build a ship! Disdain wealth, save your soul! The ship you will build, Let its width be equal to its length!”
The ancient Babylonian text describes the ark as a round boat – a coracle with a diameter of 222 feet (about 68 m) and walls 20 feet high (about 6 m). The tablet then recommends using palm fibers for the construction of the vessel, fastened with bitumen for waterproofing.
Professor Finkel logically noted that a ship, which was supposed to survive the flood, did not need to sail anywhere, it was enough just to stay on the surface of the water. According to him, such round boats are still used in Iraq and Iran, they are called “Coracle” in Britain, and in Mesopotamia, as in the Bible, “Kufa”.
It is known that in the Old Testament book of Genesis, the dimensions and proportions of the ark are described differently: 300 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width, and 30 cubits in height. One cubit is approximately 0.5 meters. How these figures correspond to the parameters in the poem about Atrahasis, whether they are a recalculation or rounding, there are no versions yet. But the available data was enough to check their suitability in practice.
The tablet described the materials and dimensions for building the ark: the amount of rope made from palm fibers, wooden ribs, and full baths of hot bitumen for waterproofing the finished vessel. The most interesting thing was that Enki told Atrahasis that for construction “you will need 40 thousand four hundred and thirty sūtus (ancient Babylonian unit of capacity) of finger-thick rope”. A sūtu is equal to 4 liters. Accordingly, we are talking about a total volume equivalent to 185 cubic meters.
If we convert this volume into length and represent it in equivalent to our units of length, it will be a decent distance, like from London to Edinburgh – 533 km (straight line). Irving Finkel asked a specialist named Mark to calculate how much material is needed to get a vessel with exactly these overall parameters: a diameter of about 68 meters and walls about 6 meters high. In our units of length, such a diameter gives the ship’s area of 3600 square meters, which is equivalent to two-thirds of the area of a football field.
And it turned out that for such a structure, 40,624 sūtus of rope are needed. That is, the difference between the number from the instructions given by God and the real data according to today’s calculations turned out to be less than one percent. The result was so stunning that Mark and Finkel recounted it several times, they checked and rechecked everything over and over again until they were convinced that it was not a coincidence. After all, it is obvious that the amount of bitumen and other materials was calculated and corrected in accordance with the dimensions of the ark, so it is actually quite possible to build it in reality using exactly the specified length of rope. All that remains is to see how everything turns out in practice.
An exact replica of the ark, reduced 5 times and based on the instructions of a Babylonian tablet nearly 4000 years old, was manually recreated in southwestern India, in the state of Kerala, on the Malabar coast. The television company “NOVA” in 2015 made a documentary about it “Secrets of Noah’s Ark | Documentary”. The film has not yet been translated into Russian, those interested can watch it in English.
The reconstruction was in the form of a coracle and was approximately one-fifth the size indicated on the tablet. The vessel was built using traditional Indian technologies and materials.
Irving Finkel watched the construction and in the end said that even such a reduced version of the ark is large enough to accommodate several pairs of “well-trained animals”.
“What’s amazing is that we had an instruction 4000 years old, and, using a little brain power, we found that we can do what it talks about.”
“Someone added real data. He must have gotten information from local boat makers and increased it. The numbers are accurate and sensible, and this is interesting from a scientific point of view.”
As a result, a traditional coracle was formed, but the largest one in the last 3700 years, with a diameter of about 13 m and an area of more than 130 square meters.
The constructed ark weighed about 35 tons, all materials were imported or purchased locally and delivered by elephants. It was launched, and in the end all participants of the experiment sailed on it.
In fact, Professor Finkel’s research has proven that ancient legends are not just interesting and instructive fictions, as has been thought for the last couple of centuries, but stories with a real basis. And they can be a real source of precise technical data. So the help and blueprints of the god Aya-Enki, as well as the salvation on the Ararat mountains, which the Sumerian heroes along with the biblical Noah were awarded, all this happened in reality, even if not everyone understands or imagines it today.
Translated by Vigen Avetisyan