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10/13/98

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The following is a brief report of my recent trip to Turkey. The purpose was to join a seminar organized by Salih Baraktutan, professor of geology in the Department of Engineering in Attaturk University in Erzurum, Turkey. The dates set for the seminar were October 5-10. As it turned out, we did not start until Oct. 6, as one member of the seminar, Jim Hall of Lynchburg, VA was put in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. I never did meet him as he spent his whole time there in the hospital.

As far as personal comforts are concerned, the flights over were smooth, the flights back were not. I tried to get on an earlier standby Saturday night in Ankara but they do not know what standby is in Ankara so I slept on an airport bench for half the night. The flight into Dulles airport was late and the whole airport was a mob scene. It took me an hour and a half from the time the plane landed till I got to my car in the satellite parking. Some of you know that I have had an infection in my left lower leg which has cleared up only gradually but it did not give me any significant trouble on the trip.

Arrangements for the 9 remaining people in the seminar were quite disorganized. We operated on Middle Eastern time which means that we were frequently an hour or two late for any number of appointments. Decisions about schedules and activities were often made at the last moment. Not very well organized.

Another problem within the seminar was the tension between the two groups involved. Half wanted to work at the Ark-shaped Durupinar site and half wanted to work on Mount Ararat. Since the latter group came anticipating that some permit had been worked out, that added to the tension. I think that they came under very naive circumstances. Their irritation was only increased when they found out that some tourist groups had permission to climb Ararat to 9000 feet. We met a Spanish group in Dogubayazit that had such a permit and we met an oriental group in Erzurum that had that kind of permit too.

This would not have helped the Ark searchers much. The permit was only for the south side of the mountain and the area they are interested in searching is in the 12,000 to 14,000 feet on the north side. The townspeople in Aralik on the north side say that nothing moves on the mountain from that side or if it does it gets shot. We heard canon and rifle fire from Ararat on Thursday Oct 8 when we were working across the valley and we heard rifle shots in our own area on Wednesday. Not sure where they came from.

Initially thought they were from Iranian border guards at the top of the hill, but now know that they are Turkish border guards, that the border is a short ways back from the edge of the plateau above the Durupinar site. These tensions were readily apparent in the course of our activities. We spent almost two whole days in the area of the Durupinar site All we did about Ararat was to get some good pictures of it early in the week when the weather was still good. On Thursday it snowed on Ararat down to the 10,000-12,000 foot area. Incidentally, the melt back of the glaciers there was said to be the best since 1973.

The Durupinar site is located at 6300 feet. It is shaped like a ship and is 500 feet long as measured from the ground and from the air. This area is also included in the biblical "mountains of Ararat". There is , however, no trace of wood on the site. It is mud and clay and a central rock ridge. That has led to the interpretation of those who favor the site in our group as a mold of the hull of the ark but is not the Ark itself. The visitor's center there is 6600 feet and the survey team, the purpose of the group climbed up to 7400 feet which was about 100 feet below the escarpment. The plateau at the top is about 8000. The survey team did not get up on top there as the Turkish military guards the border with Iran there. There is a dirt road up to the village of Uzungeli near the visitor's center and a military road up to the top.

The first day of work, Wednesday Oct 7, we walked over the site leisurely and then climbed up the slope. Then we set out on the survey work on the slope above the formation. One member of the group, David Deal of Vista, CA, had with him the 1959 aerial photo of the entire area and he held that there was a sizeable town there the ruins of which were shown in the photo. I did not see any signs of house ruins or tombs in the 3/4s of the way I walked up towards the top. At the final level to which they reached they felt that there was evidence for some tombs. Since I did not get that high, and did not go back with them the second day, I cannot say anything about that one way or the other.

The Durupinar group made work up at the top of the slope their primary focus on the second day. I wanted to study the formation itself so I did not go up with them. The Ararat group spent their time making videos of interviews with Mt. Ararat in the background. The Durupinar group found what they considered to be a tomb and they spent their time clearing the dirt above it down to a smooth flat rock slap 3 x 5 feet in size. It had a row of rocks all the way around its outer edge and it had a step up at its head, pointed down to the formation below. They did not have time to get below this slap to find what was there. They covered it up and concluded their work there. Professor Baraktutan was on his way to Ankara yesterday to file a permit for excavation of that cemetery. He wants to take his students up there during the next three weeks before the snow makes any more work there impossible. He also says that he saw another tomb that had been cracked open and that he saw pottery and bones in it. I don t know of anybody else who saw that other tomb.

My reason for going on this trip was because I had been informed by two individuals that they had been informed by Professor Baraktutan that two tombs had been found somewhere in that immediate area when they were cutting a road. The tombs were said to have contained inscriptions which were as yet undeciphered. Someone thought that they might be Proto-cuneiform. This rumor turned out to be false. There was a tomb that was discovered in the area (we never saw it but it is supposed to be relatively close by, within a mile or two). Professor Baraktutan described the main tomb as one which had ajar burial in it. Jar burials are common in Canaan but they were generally reserved for children who were buried in the floors of houses. In this case the jar was said to be large and standing vertical. In it was the skeleton of an adult in the sitting position. Apparently they cut out part of the jar for this position. He or she had on some gold jewelry. That was the extent of the find there were no inscriptions in that other tomb. I do not know where the jewelry is being kept and did not see it. This tomb is different and distinct from the two tombs apparently known now from up-slope of the Durupinar formation.

For my own part I spent a couple of hours studying the formation itself while the survey team was studying those tombs. I did not have this opportunity when I was there in 1986. The main feature that I noted about the formation is its relationship to the rock ridge that crosses it. Looking at the formation from the visitor s center it looks like it sits about midships. On the formation itself you can readily see that it lies much closer to the "bow". The division by the ridge is probably more like 1/3 above and 2/3 below.

This leads to some interesting observations about the portions of the formation above and below the rock ridge. The first observation about them is that the upper third lies at a different angle than the lower two-thirds. The angle of incline from the rock ridge above is only 10 or 15 degrees, while the angle below it is much more sharp, probably in the range of 25-30 degrees. Then there is also a different orientation of these two sections. They do not sit level with regards to the two edges. In the upper third the section has undergone a torsion whereby the left or outer edge site 10 to 15 feet higher than the inner edge on the right side. The reverse is true below the rock ridge. The inner edge on the right in this case is at least 15 feet higher than the outer edge to the left.

This gives a picture of a formation which cracked into two major pieces when impaled upon the rock ridge. The upper section torsed upwards on the outside while the lower section torsed upwards on the inner side. One could explain this in terms of the Ark. As it slid downhill in the still wet mud it came to rest upon the rock ridge and when impaled there it cracked across the middle of the ship. The currents of water then pushed up the upper section because it took the brunt of the current. The lower section then would have been victim of the eddy currents that resulted from what hit the upper formation. Another possibility is tectonism, since two earthquake faults converge in this area. In this case, having been broken previously, the earthquake would have pushed the two segments in different ways.

The outer wall is of some interest also. There are two walls formed by the boat shaped formation itself. Call them the starboard and port sections of the hull. Outside of the starboard section of the "hull" there is another line, another wall, but there is no parallel formation of similar shape outside the port side of the "hull". This outer wall on the right is of interest in view of the fact that it too has a prominent prow pushed up at its upper end. But there is a different. The prow of the main formation is bifurcated, like one would ordinarily expect of the prow of a ship when it sank into mud. The prow of the outer formation is only half of the formation of the prow of the "ship". It only has a right half. One way this could be explained is that as the Ark came to rest in the turbulent waters and banged against the right hand bank and made this imprint there then slid down to its final resting position. (The formation is lower than the outer wall on the right) Not much of the outer wall shows from the formation itself but there is a section that sticks up about the middle of the outer wall that can be seen from the formation and interestingly enough, it has rather prominent vertical striations in it. I would have expected horizontal striations from the imprint of a hull, so I do not have a final explanation for this.

Well, I thought I was so clever in observing the different angles and torsion described above so I mentioned it to Professor Baraktutan at breakfast on Friday morning and he said, "oh, we knew that all along, we have done measurements on that." Somewhat crestfallen I took consolation that my seat of the pants observations had been confirmed earlier by measurement.

The other observation of significance, probably the most important in my opinion, is that I found an ostracon just outside of the midships of the formation as I was walking down to it. The ostracon is about 3 x 3 inches so that it is good size. It is a body sherd from a medium sized pot so that it has some curve to it. On the outer sides there were some figures incised and blackened (with carbon black ink?). In the left upper corner there is a rather clear picture of a bird. It is flying up to the left. Below it is the figure of another bird, also flying up to the left. Down in the right hand corner is the head of a man. The picture obviously is that of a man releasing two birds, which brings to mind Noah releasing the raven and the dove. It looks as if the three figures are labeled in an alphabetic script related to Proto-Sinaitic, like the inscriptions from Korhan that I have been working on since the spring of 1996. The labels of the three figures are the Hebrew words for raven (oreb), dove (yonah) and Noah. There is writing incised on the backside but with no covering ink and the writing there is even smaller than the labels on the front side, which makes them even more difficult to read and it will take some time and magnification before it can be made out. For the time being I am calling this sherd The Noah Ostracon. I brought it home with me but will return it to the Turks if they want it after I have completed my study of it. Fortunately the commercial graphics man that I work with here in the Washington area has a Micronics lens that can shoot that sort of thing. Of the four of us on the seminar that have some sympathy with the Durupinar formation, all four of us hold that it is a mold, a footprint of the landing site of the Ark and does not contain the Ark itself. That includes Professor Baraktutan who has charge over geological and archaeological explorations in the Ararat area. He has no interest in excavating the formation so that means it will not be done in the foreseeable future. Professor Rob Michelson of Georgia Tech is especially interested in surveying the formation and the area around it with unmanned computerized plane (21 wingspan). They use three modalities of scanning, including infrared. It is expensive and the plane will not be ready next year, not until 2000. David Deal holds, from his interpretation of the aerial photographs, that there is a large town or city that was buried up-slope. I think that interpretation is doubtful, but perhaps the first few tombs up-slope will give some indication of that or not. He too holds that the formation is mold and not the Ark. He was a friend of Dave Fasold (now deceased) and has most of Fasold's materials, including the 1960 aerial photograph of the area. The article that I wrote on the formation in 1976 suggested, on the mode of the Hawaii tree molds, that this formation would more likely be a mold of the hull of the ark, rather than the Ark itself. That is where the two days of field work ended. Some small progress has been made on the Durupinar formation, but not much yet on Mount Ararat itself.

Respectfully submitted,

Bill Shea


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