A recently deciphered 4,000-year-old clay tablet from ancient Mesopotamia is providing new details about the mythological tale of Noah and his ark, including detailed instructions on how the massive, round floating vessel was to be built.

The tablet, which went on display at the British Museum on January 24, is the subject of a new book, The Ark Before Noah, by Irving Finkel, the museum's assistant keeper of the Middle East and the expert who translated the tablet. Finkel acquired the piece when a man brought in a damaged tablet his father had acquired in the Middle East during the Second World War. No larger than a smartphone, it was covered in the jagged cuneiform script of the ancient Mesopotamians.

The tablet describes how the animals should enter "two by two," and how the giant vessel should be made of rope, reinforced with wooden ribs and coated in bitumen. Completed, the coracle would be two thirds the size of a football field in area (213 feet or 65 meters in diameter) and walls 20 feet or six meters high.

Kinda like this, but MUCH bigger:


Why a round shape? The Toronto Star explains:

"It was really a heart-stopping moment — the discovery that the boat was to be a round boat," said Finkel, who sports a long grey 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." Elizabeth Stone, an expert on the antiquities of ancient Mesopotamia at New York's Stony Brook University, said it made sense that ancient Mesopotamians would depict their mythological ark in that shape. "People are going to envision the boat however people envision boats where they are," she said. "Coracles are not unusual things to have had in Mesopotamia."

According to Finkel, the instructions (or Godly Orders, depending on how you want to look at it) appear sound, but he doesn't yet know whether it would have floated. A TV documentary due to be broadcast later this year will follow attempts to build the ark based on the ancient texts.


[ Toronto Star | Image: British Museum]

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