Despite the notable lack of significant evidence, the media and the blogosphere are abuzz over the cries of a team of Chinese and Turkish explorers who claim that the wooden structure they found on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey is none other than Noah's Ark.
Experts in history, archaeology, and bibliology, meanwhile, are making note of the claim but not taking the bait.
They say they've heard the cries before and will need a lot more than the confirmation of 4,800-year-old wood to take the claims seriously.
"Periodically, there are announcements, almost always by enthusiasts without real background in archaeology, about the discovery of Noah's ark somewhere in Turkey," says Dr. Aren M. Maeir, a professor at Israel's Bar Ilan University and director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project.
"As with other fantastic discoveries relating to biblical archaeology coming from non-professional archaeologists (location of Mt. Sinai; the Egyptian army in the Red Sea; the deciphering of the Copper Scroll, etc., etc.) these announcements are quite suspect, since the full information is never published in 'real' scientific journals, and all one gets to see are the media announcements and website info," he adds.
On Sunday, the team from Noah's Ark Ministries International (NAMI) that explored Mount Ararat announced at a press conference that the wood specimens they had retrieved last year from the "large wooden structure" they discovered more than 4,000 meters above sea level were found to be 4,800 years in age – a figure that would correspond with the time of Noah, based upon a literal reading of the Bible.
Backed by Turkish government officials and his group's own set of experts, NAMI representative Man-fai Yuen said, "We believe that the wooden structure we entered is the same structure recorded in historical accounts and the same ancient boat indicated by the locals."
"The search team has made the greatest discovery in history," added Dr. Oktay Belli, an archaeologist at Istanbul University. "This finding is very important and the greatest up to now."
According to Belli, there has never been human settlement above 3,500 meters on Mount Ararat, which has long been considered the location of where Noah's Ark settled following the receding of the flood recorded in the Bible.
In Genesis 8, it is recorded that "the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat."
"Mount Ararat is a holy place and has rich historical accounts about Noah's Ark on the mountain," said Belli on Sunday. "Many people have searched the mountain for the holy Ark. This time's discovery is the first serious search that the team found a wood structure under ice."
Also present at the press conference was Dutch Ark researcher Gerrit Aalten, the head of NoahsArkSearch.com, who claimed "there's a tremendous amount of solid evidence that the structure found on Mount Ararat in Eastern Turkey, is the legendary Ark of Noah."
Among the "many details" Aalten listed were the height at which the structure was found, the "slightly tilted" way it was situated on the mountain, its "reddish/brown wood appearance," and its "very dark, long and rectangular" appearance.
The structure, he said, is "very solid and of high quality."
Dr. Eric H. Cline of George Washington University, however, says the structure could be anything.
"The problem with going out specifically to find a particular object, such as Noah's Ark in this instance, is that one frequently finds what one is looking for, whether there is any merit to it or not," the archaeology professor told The Christian Post on Wednesday.
"[A]ll that we know at the moment is that the expedition members are showing us pictures and samples of a structure made out of wood. It could be ancient, it could be medieval, it could even have been constructed last week. Even carbon-14 dating will only tell us how old the wood is; it will not tell us when the structure was constructed," he commented.
That's not to say, however, that the respected archaeologist is ruling out the find. But like many others, he's waiting for the results of more independent and comprehensive probing.
Even Young Earth creationists at the Christian apologetics ministry Answers in Genesis said they "will withhold judgment until further study."
"Over the decades, we have learned to be cautious about such Ark claims," it reported Tuesday.
But the ministry said has "no doubt, however, that there once was a massive Ark that served as a vessel of salvation during a global Flood and landed on the mountains of Ararat, as recorded in the book of Genesis."
Bar-Ilan University's Maeir, meanwhile, said he "seriously doubt[s] this one (find) is real."
"[W]hen and if the finds are published in a full and comprehensive manner, one will truly be able to assess it," he told The Christian Post. "Meanwhile, it joins many other such discoveries - and sound quite hard to believe."
According to NAMI's announcement Sunday, the ministry will invite other scientists to participate in the search and study of its discover, and is committed to uncovering the truth behind it.
They read and signed a cooperation agreement in which they agreed to collaborate with any further probing of their discovery, noting that their results "are of significance to the whole world in that humankind should cherish its common beliefs and origins."
"We believe that the discovery of Noah's Ark will resolve centuries of national ideological conflict. We are dedicated to working towards a better, peaceful world," they stated.