By Kathy Louise Schuit
Telegraph Staff Writer
Almost since Moses reported the great flood and the ark that survived it in the Bible's book of Genesis, men have searched Mount Ararat for remains of the life-saving craft.
In this century, Ed Davis of Albuquerque was one of the few who, before his death in 1998 at age 95, claimed to have seen the ark.
But it was Mountainair's Don Shockey who told Davis' story to the world in his book "Agri-Dagh, Mount Ararat— The Painful Mountain" and who continues trying to prove that what Davis saw in 1946 was indeed Noah's Ark.
In the book, Davis recounts to Shockey his experiences in and near Hamadan, Iran, while serving with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1943. Mount Ararat rises from within the Turkish borders near Iran and Russia.
Davis said he was shown artifacts from the ark and held them in his hands. Then, accompanied by the family of a man who represented himself as a guardian of the ark, Davis said he was taken to it.
Since writing the book Shockey has himself scaled Mount Ararat three times— in 1984, 1989 and again in 1990.
Countless TV and radio appearances, including an episode of the popular "Unsolved Mysteries" series, have given thousands of people a look at Shockey's own photographs of the mountain and what appears to be an object resting high on a northern slope. Shockey believes this object is the ark.
But Shockey, a true New Mexican who made all three climbs to the snowline in cowboy boots, has never been able to get close enough to gather conclusive evidence of his find.
On the 1984 trip that resulted in the now-famous photos, he said, climbing permits issued by the Turkish government and enforced by guides did not allow him to cross into the distant area where the object was resting.
On subsequent trips— including 1989, when Shockey rented a helicopter to photograph the object from the air and hopefully land nearby— he said he was prevented by border hostilities and military actions taking place in Russia and Iran.
If proven, the finding of Noah's Ark would validate Christianity and set the world on its ear, Shockey said in a recent interview at his Mountainair home.
"Gilbert Grosvenor (chairman) of National Geographic said it would be the single most important archaeological find in the world," Shockey said.
Though Shockey is retired from a long career as an optometrist, he is no anthropological amateur.
Under the tutelage of Dr. Frank Hibben, renowned anthropology professor, Shockey graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1957 with a bachelor's degree in anthropology with a minor in biology and then went on to finish a degree in secondary education.
While completing his anthropology studies, he said, he was privileged to assist in the excavation of a site near Lucy, N.M.— between Willard and Encino.
The location, Shockey said, has since been officially designated as a site once occupied by Sandia Man, considered by anthropologists to be one of the most ancient inhabitants of North or South America. The original Sandia Man site centers on a cave in the Sandia Mountains.
Despite Shockey's expertise and connections in the scientific community, many people challenge his belief that he, with the help of Ed Davis' recollections, has found Noah's Ark. The "Unsolved Mysteries" episode, which aired in 1993, also examined the findings of archaeologist Dave Fasold.
Fasold claimed at that time to have found the ark's resting place 14 miles away from Shockey's site, and from Mount Ararat.
According to "Unsolved Mysteries," disagreement between biblical scholars about whether the ark actually came to rest on Ararat itself adds plausibility to Fasold's claim.
The Bible says the ark landed on "the mountains of Ararat."
Unfortunately for ark hunters, Shockey said, the mountains of Ararat are one of the world's largest— not tallest— mountain ranges, and include greater and lesser Ararat in a mountainous region that geologically extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Himalaya Mountains. At high elevations, they are mostly covered with snow and ice year-round.
The size and shape of Fasold's find— a depression in the earth near Ararat— coincide roughly with archaeologists' best calculations of the ark's dimensions, said "Unsolved Mysteries."
Additionally, the depression is filled with what Fasold claimed were regularly spaced iron deposits— something, he said, you might find after 5,000 years of deterioration left behind only the traces of iron studs that once possibly held the ark's framework together.
Shockey, however, said Fasold's claims are completely manufactured.
"If that's Noah's Ark, Noah had a fleet," said Shockey.
He explained that similar iron deposits occur throughout the Ararat range.
Based on his photographs and his research into historically recorded sightings of the ark throughout recorded time, Shockey said he is offended by Fasold's claims that the ark is today nothing more than a deteriorated depression in the side of the mountain.
According to Arktracker, an obscure ark timeline on the World Wide Web, ark sightings date back to the year 275 B.C., when Berossus, a Babylonian priest, scholar and astronomer, claimed that "pilgrims went up a mountain in Armenia to carve amulets from the petrified pitch that covers the ark."
In the fourth century, Faustus of Byzantium reported the experiences of bishops who said they saw it, and in the 13th century Marco Polo wrote an account of seeing the ark in his book "The Travels of Marco Polo."
In 1883, Turkish officials documented avalanches on Ararat that they said revealed the scattered remains of the ark and left them fully visible for six years.
Davis was just one of five American servicemen who between 1942 and 1946 claimed to have seen the ark, either from the ground or from their planes.
Shockey credits his belief in the ark's continued survival to its construction from "gopher wood."
There is no Hebrew word for gopher wood, said Shockey, but the Bible says it is the material from which the ark is constructed. Most biblical scholars believe gopher wood to be a type of cypress or cedar, but Shockey has a different theory.
"What if gopher wood is a process, not a species?" said Shockey.
Much like the process used to create modern-day laminates, gopher wood, Shockey said, might have been a composite material formed from strong wood and tree sap that hardened to steel strength.
Shockey said he discovered the possibility of a gopher wood process in talking with members of the Jewish community in the Middle East.
"If we didn't know what plywood was, we might be looking for a tree," he said.
Today's stealth bomber technology includes some construction with a similar, "para-laminate" material, which contains no metal, Shockey said.
Whether the ark actually rests on Mount Ararat or ever existed at all, the probings of Shockey and other ark hunters will likely stimulate thought, interest and discussion from now until the matter is finally proved one way or the other.
However, no one can dispute the geological facts that from the icy center of the mountains of Ararat, the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are born. Between these two rivers Mesopotamia, the historical "seat of civilization," took shape.
Historians can't say for sure whether a great flood preceded these events, but if Noah did come down off the mountain to re-establish life on earth, scholars agree it was a fertile place that guaranteed humanity's success.