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New research says Noah's Ark prototype is round: British Museum

LONDON -- It was a vast boat that saved two of each animal and a handful of humans from a catastrophic flood.

But forget all those images of a long vessel with a pointy bow — the original Noah's Ark, new research suggests, was round.

A recently deciphered 4,000-year-old clay tablet from ancient Mesopotamia — modern-day Iraq — reveals striking new details about the roots of the Old Testament tale of Noah. It tells a similar story, complete with detailed instructions for building a giant round vessel known as a coracle — as well as the key instruction that animals should enter “two by two.”

The tablet went on display at the British Museum on Friday, and soon engineers will follow the ancient instructions to see whether the vessel could actually have sailed.

It's also the subject of a new book, “The Ark Before Noah,” by Irving Finkel, the museum's assistant keeper of the Middle East and the man who translated the tablet.

Finkel got hold of it a few years ago, when a man brought in a damaged tablet his father had acquired in the Middle East after World War II. It was light brown, about the size of a mobile phone and covered in the jagged cuneiform script of the ancient Mesopotamians.

It turned out, Finkel said Friday, to be “one of the most important human documents ever discovered.”

“It was really a heart-stopping moment — the discovery that the boat was to be a round boat,” said Finkel, who sports a long gray 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.”

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Irving Finkel, curator in charge of cuneiform clay tablets at the British Museum, poses with the 4000-year-old clay tablet containing the story of the Ark and the flood during the launch of his book “The Ark Before Noah” at the British Museum in London on Friday, Jan. 24. (AP)

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