The Ancient Excavation of the Ark

     Taking the first ever photos of the structure that for millennia was said to hold the Ark of Noah (or Nuh or Utnapishtim) brings with it responsibilities. And my initial efforts didn’t do it justice.1 So I’ve gone back through my photos, tagged any potential overlap, and fashioned a simple panorama:

Noah's Ark on Mt. Cudi Summit Panorama

      So what are we looking at here? The ancient Babylonians report cutting off pieces of the Ark to use as magical amulets.2 The Assyrian emperor Sennacherib climbed this mountain in 699 BC and was said to have had idols carved from the Ark.3 In 537 AD, the Christian emperor Justinian allegedly used its wood for the doors of his great cathedral, the Hagia Sophia. And in the seventh century, Caliph Umar “took the Ark from the two mountains and made it into a mosque.”4 Even after the exposed portions had been stripped away, pilgrims came annually for centuries, digging up relics of the Ark as part of a religious festival: “On descending the mountain they bring with them some remains of the Ark, which, according to their assertion, is still deeply buried in the earth.”5

      What remains now is a ship-shaped depression, visible on satellite photos, but unfortunately trapped for decades in an active conflict zone. On finally reaching it (exhausted from the difficult climb, extreme thirst, and an ordeal with PKK guerrilla fighters), I found that the formation now consists largely of holes, trenches, and mounds of dirt and rocks, apparently the result of centuries of digging in the rocky ground. Some of the mounds (likely more recent) consist of dirt mixed with stone. But in most cases, centuries of rain appear to have washed the dirt away, leaving mostly stone in the piles along the old pits and trenches.

      Unfortunately, because I took photos from different positions as I explored the structure, it was difficult to find exact matches, and the foreground was incomplete. So I went through my videos and found this pan along its east side, which would be the foreground of the above panorama:

Using screenshots from the video, I created a second panorama:

Ark of Noah East Side Panorama From Video

Ark Mount Cudi Panorama from Video

      And, since the left side of this panorama mirrors that of the initial panorama, I was able to combine them into a more complete view of the structure:

Noah's Ark on Mt Cudi New Panorama

      Here is the completed panorama overlaying a satellite view of the same spot (courtesy of Bing Maps) and annotated:

Ark on Mount Cudi Annotated

     For interactive exploration of this site (atop Mount Cudi on the Turkey/Iraq/Syria border) from the safety of your laptop, I have embedded Google Earth and Bing maps:

      And a last image to close the post, just the Ark:

Ark Isolated with Satellite View

      I’ll try to get future posts up in a more timely fashion. This one took much longer than expected. Just piecing together that first 30,000-pixel-wide panorama slowed my laptop to a glacial pace and crashed it repeatedly, eliciting some unfortunate outbursts from its operator.



1. On the importance of this site: “If the Ark of Noah should ever be discovered, it would be the greatest archaeological discovery of all time.” —Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, editor of the National Geographic Magazine for 55 years. My earlier posting of the first individual photos of the structure can be seen here. In them, I failed to capture the entirety of the structure, due to its enormous size, the rough topography, the ground cover, and extreme time constraints. I have attempted to remedy that in this new post by joining multiple photos and a video into a high resolution panorama of the site.

2. The 3rd century BC Babylonian priest and historian Berosus wrote of the Great Flood: “It is said that there is still some part of this ship in Armenia, at the mountain of the Cordyaeans [Kurds]; and that some people carry off pieces of bitumen, which they take away, and use chiefly as amulets for the averting of mischiefs.”

3. Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin, folio 96a. Sennacherib inscribed his own image and an account of his ascent here on the side of Mount Cudi. He also left multiple stone prisms that boast of his ascent on his return trip from laying siege to Jerusalem. The story of Sennacherib is the first time that the Bible mentions “Ararat” after saying that the Ark landed there. The context strongly suggests that Mount Cudi was the Biblical Mount Ararat, and Jewish tradition identified Cudi as Ararat at least as early as the 11th century visit to the region by Benjamin of Tudela. See the following citation.

4. Benjamin of Tudela, The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, trans. Marcus Nathan Adler (London: Philipp Feldheim, Inc., 1907), 33. Mount Cudi is the Turkish spelling of Mount Judi, the traditional name of this mountain, which is named in the Quran as the place where the Ark of the prophet Nuh rested. 

5. J J. Benjamin II, Eight Years in Asia and Africa: From 1846 to 1855 (Hanover, 1863), 93-94.