A new film portraying the Biblical legend of Noah’s Ark has incurred the wrath of devout Christians for not faithfully representing the story as it is outlined in the Good Book. Whether the film is an accurate portrayal of the fable or not, it has prompted further discussion regarding the truth behind the ancient tale.

Researchers have long debated whether the Great Flood described in the Bible actually happened, and evidence disclosed in a recently published book by British archaeologist, Irving Finkel, “The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood”, suggests that an ancient civilisation wrote detailed instructions illustrating how to build a huge, ark-style vessel to escape from flood waters.

The book reveals details of a cuneiform tablet which was presented to Finkel, a curator at the British Museum, by a man named Douglas Simmonds back in 1985. The tablet was part of a collection of objects brought in by Simmonds for inspection, including lamps, coins, seals and a few odd pieces of cuneiform.
One of the pieces of cuneiform was an almost complete specimen made of clay, about the size of a mobile phone.

“It turned out to be a piece of literature, which was obviously part of the floods story. It’s an important aspect of Mesopotamian literature and it circulates in more than one composition,” Finkel explained.

Before written records were commonplace, legends were passed down through the generations by word of mouth, then unknown authors began to note down their own version of stories at various points in time. The cuneiform tablet is an example of one such record.

“It would be something that would be copied and then recopied but the names of the contributors, the poets whose input was there was never recorded. All this literature is anonymous,” said Mr. Finkel.

The 4000 year old tablet is a complete piece of literature providing a description of a tsunami that allegedly occurred in Mesopotamia several thousand years ago. Many versions of the "Great Flood" legend exist and by 2000BC it was a well-established story, though one message is consistent throughout all accounts: the gods decide to destroy mankind by washing them away with an immense deluge of water, but one man manages to save all of the species on earth by building a huge boat and taking two of each creature on board.

Concealed in the text of Simmonds’ version are technical details that describe how to construct such a vessel, including the type of materials required, the quantities and the methods of assembly.

Finkel described the directions given in the transcript, which he believes could be the only factual element in the legend.

"The instructions from the god were to build a boat which was round, the size of half of a [soccer] pitch and dimensions were given. This was an extraordinary matter. Sitting in the middle of London you don’t think that boats can be round but in ancient Iraq like in modern Iraq, they had many round boats.”

In order to test out the accuracy of the technical specifications, Finkel is now working with a team that hopes to build the boat according to the instructions given, though the present-day version will be a scaled down model. The craft will be assembled in India, and Finkel is to travel there in April to oversee its construction.

“They are building it and it’s something like half the size of the original,” described Finkel. “Sooner or later they are going to have to push it into the sea and see what takes place.”

Time will tell whether the reconstructed Ark will prove to be seaworthy. If it does manage to stay afloat, then it will provide solid evidence to substantiate the theory that a Great Flood did indeed occur thousands of years ago. Whether this did in fact wipe out entire civilisations, and whether life on earth was perpetuated only by the actions of a man called Noah taking animals onboard "two by two" may still be in question.

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