It was a vast boat that saved two of each animal and a handful of humans from a catastrophic flood. But forget all those images of a long vessel with a pointy bow. The original Noah’s Ark, new research suggests, was round.
A recently deciphered 4,000-year-old tablet from ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) reveals striking new details about the roots of the Old Testament tale of Noah. It tells a similar story, complete with detailed instructions for building a giant round vessel known as a coracle, as well as the key instruction that animals should enter “two by two.”
The tablet went on display at the British Museum on Friday, and soon engineers will follow the ancient instructions to see whether the vessel could actually have sailed.
It’s also the subject of a new book, ‘The Ark Before Noah,’ by Irving Finkel, the museum’s assistant keeper of the Middle East and the man who translated the tablet.
Finkel got hold of it a few years ago, when a man brought in a damaged tablet his father had acquired in the Middle East after World War II. It was light brown, about the size of a mobile phone and covered in the jagged cuneiform script of the ancient Mesopotamians.
It turned out, Finkel said on Friday, to be “one of the most important human documents ever discovered.”
“It was really a heart-stopping moment… the discovery that the boat was to be a round boat,” said Finkel, who sports a long gray beard, a ponytail and boundless enthusiasm for his subject. “That was a real surprise.”
And yet, Finkel said, a round boat makes sense. Coracles were widely used as river taxis in ancient Iraq and are perfectly designed to bob along on raging floodwaters.
“It’s a perfect thing,” Finkel said. “It never sinks, it’s light to carry.”
Finkel said that on paper (or stone) the boat-building orders appear sound, but he doesn’t yet know whether it would have floated.
A television documentary due to be broadcast later this year will follow attempts to build the ark according to the ancient manual.