Noah’s ark was a reed ship

by J.M. Allen

I am sure we are all familiar with the popular picture of Noah’s Ark. A great clumsy bluff-bowed wooden barge with a house-like construction perched on top, a couple of windows with the long neck of a giraffe sticking out, a boarding ramp with a benign Noah in flowing robes with staff in hand beckoning the animals on and a procession of wild beasts including elephants trunk in trunk disappearing inside.

noah's ark
Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat by Simon de Myle, 1570, oil on panel

At least that is the image presented in most children’s storybooks and the image most easily retained in peoples' minds

The Bible (King James version) merely tells us that Noah was ordered to build an ark of gopher wood, to pitch it within and without with pitch and that the length should be 300 cubits, the breadth fifty cubits and the height thirty cubits. And one last detail – the ark should have lower, second and third stories.

In the seventeenth century when the King James version of the Bible was compiled, Great Britain was a great maritime power whose wooden ships ranged the world. So the scholars of the period probably envisaged the ark in terms of the wooden shipbuilding of their day.

"The Discovery of Noah’s Ark" by David Fasold presents a totally different picture. Fasold suggests the ark was made of reeds.

fasold noahs's ark

On a mountain in Turkey not far from Mt Ararat (the Biblical Ark was said to have landed, or at least rested on Mt Ararat) is to be found a giant boat-shaped formation preserved in petrified mud.

This formation which has a pointed bow and rounded stern was first seen from the air and on satellite photographs.

ark formation ark formation
The ark-shaped formation on the side of the mountain.

David Fasold visited the site and carried out an extensive survey. He found the formation to be 538ft long (500ft according to other investigators) and 138ft wide amidships. Although no material remains existed within the formation, he detected a "hull pool" or gap in the centre of the hull measuring some 26 x 200ft.

His conclusion was that here there lay the remains of a giant reed ship, similar to those found in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

In order to make the vessel conform to the dimensions of Noah’s Ark given in the Bible, he suggested that the internal length of the formation was 515ft, which would suggest 300 cubits if the Egyptian cubit of 20.62" was used. The breadth he couldn’t figure since the Bible breadth of 50 cubits should have been 86ft using the same cubit instead of the 138ft he found.

Fasold also quotes an earlier independent measurement of the ship as being 492ft long and had he stuck to this measurement he might have found it to comply better with the Bible dimensions.

Fasold had reasoned that since Moses came via Egypt, the Ark length ought to have been recorded in Egyptian cubits. He overlooked the fact that reed-ship building also had origins in Mesopotamia or ancient Sumeria, and the Bible legend of The Flood also had its counterparts (or origins?) in Sumerian flood legends.

So logically, the length of the Ark in cubits could equally well turn out to be a length in Sumerian cubits and if we substitute the Sumerian cubit of 19.8" instead of Egyptian cubits, this gives a length to the ship of 495ft, very close to the 492ft Fasold himself records as being measured by the other observer.

If we turn now to Thor Heyerdahl’s book "The Tigris Expedition" we find that a standard length for an ancient Sumerian reed ship known as a "ma-gur" was 120 gur or 300 gur. Now if we substitute the word "cubit" for "gur" we can see that the lengths were respectively 198ft and 495ft – so the Bible Ark was the same length as the standard Sumerian giant reed ship!

That the ship of Noah was a reed ship can be further confirmed by returning to the Sumerian legend of the flood when the God tells the man "Reed hut and walls listen, Tear down your house and build a ship." We should note that it was a reed house which was torn down to provide materials for building the ship. Reed houses still exist amongst the Marsh Arabs of the region today with giant cylindrical columns not unlike those used in the construction of the ship itself.

marsh arab reed house
Marsh Arab reed house uses reed cylinders similar to those in building reed boats.

marsh arab reed house
Marsh Arab reed house uses reed cylinders similar to those in building reed boats.

reed cylinders for reed ship reed cylinders for reed ship
reed cylinders for reed ship reed cylinders for reed ship
Reed cylinders are lashed together to make up the cylindrical hulls of reed ships in Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.

Thor Heyerdahl’s ship "Tigris" consisted of two giant cylinders of reeds lashed tightly together. In order to build it, he flew over to Iraq native Aymara Indians from the shores of Lake Titicaca, Bolivia who still build reed boats to this day and use them for fishing on Lake Titicaca.


Heyerdahl tells us that in ancient times farmers could drive whole herds of cattle up onto the decks of their reed ships (not unlike Noah?) and that their ships would arrive from abroad bringing timber and up to 18.5 metric tonnes of copper.

plan of Noah's Ark 300 cubit reed ship

cross section of Noah's Ark 300 cubit reed ship

elevation of Noah's Ark 300 cubit reed ship

Remembering David Fasold’s description of a "hull pool" within the reed ship, I wondered whether the hull pool might not have contained an internal timber structure which might accommodate the "three stories" of Noah and act like a cargo hold, allowing heavier materials to be stored lower down in the ship also providing a useful form of ballast.

I decided to build a model. Using Fasold’s measurements and plan view combined with a side elevation of an Egyptian reed ship I sketched out my own plan, elevation and cross sections at regular intervals. First a small model in cardboard 11 inches long then a larger model 30 inches long. The ship was based on two cylinders separated by a "hull pool" as Fasold had described but joined at both ends. The "hull pool" provided lower decks within and accommodated fore and aft dagger boards in the South American style. On completion of the model and drawings, the explanation of the Bible dimensions became apparent. The height of the ship was the height of the reed cylinders, originally 30 cubits (49.5ft) and correspondingly the height of the deck they supported. The Bible width of 50 cubits I scaled from the drawing – not the overall width of the vessel which still corresponded (to scale) to the 138ft found by Fasold – but the width of 50 cubits was the distance from centre line to centre line of each cylinder amidships, allowing for the gap formed by the "hull pool" or wooden structure within.

The result was an astonishingly beautiful and streamlined vessel. By creating a gap between the hulls, some of the accommodation can be lowered between the hulls, thus avoiding a top-heavy deck cabin structure as was the case with Heyerdahl’s vessel where the cabin must have created a lot of unnecessary windage on deck.

model noah's ark sailing model noah's ark sailing
Model for 120ft vessel built according to the Noah's Ark formula sailing in Torbay.

I added two bipod masts in the traditional fashion common to Egypt, Mesopotamia and Peru/Bolivia. The sails I took from Egyptian profiles – long rectangular slats – but when tilted upright they provide a perfectly balanced rig which rotates around the mast and becomes much more aerodynamically efficient so that combined with the retractable daggerboards hidden with the hull the ship stands a much better chance of making progress to windward!

Thor Heyerdahl demonstrated with his Ra II that a reed ship was capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean when he sailed from Africa to the shores of the Americas, on the assumption that the Ancients could have sailed from the Old World to the New.

But the real question must be… "Who was the very first to sail across the Ocean Sea?" Given that traces of coca and tobacco (South American products) were found in Egypt at the time of Rameses III (1200BC) it is equally possible that the first traders sailed not from Egypt/Africa to the Americas but from the Americas to Egypt. In other words, did the very first voyagers sail from west to east in giant reed ships?

Page updated 2nd September 2013 as a result of viewing the documentary "The Truth Behind the Ark" by Zigzag Productions where it was stated that it would be impossible to build an Ark of the bible dimensions due to the required keel size, but no consideration was given to an ark made of reeds.

They filmed a tank test with a wooden model of 300 x 50 units in proportion to prove that the ark design was not viable. They did not tank test a model reed ship because reed ships did not feature in their programme. They also produced an expert who deciphered some cuneiform text and stated that the Ark was round - what all 300 cubits of it! This was a misconception since it was not the length of the ark which was round, but each of the two hulls which were round, confirming that the ark was indeed a reed ship.

They also stated that David Fasold had dropped the idea of the book with the publishers, but as can be seen from the book cover reproduced above, this was not the case, (I also obtained many years ago, a physical copy from Cambridge public library which sparked my interest in Fasold's design - although Wiki states that Fasold later changed his mind about the site.)

The object of this page is not to prove that Noah built an ark which contained all the animals in the world, neither is it the object to prove that the formation on the Durupinar site is a fossilised ship, the object is merely to demonstrate that in all probability the Bible description of the Ark is based upon a reed ship and not a wooden ship, and also that the design of the Ark with twin hulls proposed by David Fasold is a feasible proposition as demonstrated by the various models I have built and floated on the sea.

It has been stated by some experts that it would be impossible to build a wooden ship the size of Noah's Ark or anything of comparable length due to the length of keel timbers involved, and stresses on the hull due to wave formations. Yet today it is recognised that a great fleet of chinese junks at one time set out on a voyage of world exploration, some of the vessls being of giant size as in the example below.

giant junk
Chinese junk 440ft in length.

The standard Sumerian reed ships at 495ft in length were only slightly larger than the junk example above, so the Ark of Noah, built of reeds instead of timber but perhaps with a timber core, could have been a real possibility after all.

model noah's ark 55ft
Model for 55ft vessel built according to the Noah's Ark formula and rigged with Chinese junk style sails.

reed boats bolivia
also see "A reed boat history"